How Long Do IBS Flare-Ups Last? [+ 6 Ways to Relieve Them]

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that impacts millions of people worldwide. Anyone who suffers from IBS has wondered how long it will last or if it will ever go away. While many people see a reduction in symptoms over time, there’s no simple answer to how long IBS will last.

Here’s the good news: At PrimeHealth, our patients have proven that IBS can be cured in many cases.

How long does an IBS flare-up last? IBS flare-ups can last anywhere from a day or two to months at a time. For most, IBS symptoms present in waves.

In this article, we’ll go over common triggers for IBS attacks, or flare-ups, what you can do to calm them, and how to prevent them in the future.

Colorado patients: If you want to get to the root of your IBS and reverse it for good, schedule a free phone consultation with PrimeHealth today. 

Risk Factors for Flare-Ups

The duration of a flare-up may depend on what triggered it in the first place. Common risk factors include:

  • Stress impacts your whole body and is a common trigger for IBS flare-ups.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption can cause IBS flare-ups.
  • Food intolerances are the most common trigger for IBS flare-ups. For instance, if you have a gluten intolerance, wheat products can trigger IBS; if you’re lactose intolerant, eating dairy will probably cause a flare-up, too.
  • Excessive caffeine may lead to loose stools, yeast infections, higher cortisol levels, and IBS flare-ups.
  • Eating too frequently can disrupt the migratory motor complex, creating issues with gut motility. You have to give your body time to digest.
  • Hormonal imbalance can impact your digestion, particularly if you have thyroid dysfunction.
  • Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when bacteria grows in your small intestine rather than in the large intestine, where it should primarily populate. Up to 84% of IBS patients have SIBO.
  • Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) or food poisoning may damage the migratory motor complex and disrupt intestinal function, leading to prolonged bowel disorders like IBS.
  • Antibiotics are linked with bowel disease because they kill all bacteria, both good and bad, and can cause yeast overgrowth. Because your gut depends on good bacteria to thrive, antibiotics can disrupt your digestive health.
  • Candida or yeast overgrowth, though not widely recognised as a diagnosis, candida/yeast infections are becoming more common, thanks to overuse of antibiotics and excess sugar intake.

Symptoms of IBS

IBS patients experience symptoms differently based on the type of IBS they have. It’s important to clarify the type, as IBS treatment options will differ, as you’ll see.

  • IBS-D is characterized by mostly diarrhea
  • IBS-C is mostly constipation and stomach cramps.
  • IBS-M  is a combination of alternating loose bowel movements and constipation.
  • IBS-U is an undefined subtype with varying symptoms.

Common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Inconsistent bowel habits
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Stomach cramps
  • Unintended weight loss

What does an IBS attack feel like? An IBS attack, or flare-up, may feel like stomach pain, abdominal cramping, or an urgent need to go to the restroom. Symptoms vary depending on the type of IBS and the trigger.

What is the difference between IBS and IBD? IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) are both digestive health conditions. While IBS is a syndrome that causes several digestive symptoms, IBD is chronic autoimmune inflammation in the intestines.

How do you relieve an IBS flare-up?

There are several things you can do to relieve IBS flare-ups. We’ll discuss these 6 ways to heal your digestive system and calm a flare-up:

  1. Changing your diet
  2. Taking supplements for digestive health
  3. Reducing your stress levels
  4. Getting good sleep
  5. Staying physically active
  6. Trying medication

With the right diet and lifestyle changes, you can significantly reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

1. Dietary Changes

The right diet can alleviate your IBS symptoms. Conventional and functional doctors alike often suggest IBS patients make dietary changes to watch for improvement.

Common dietary protocols include:

  • Low-FODMAP diet: FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” To put it simply, FODMAP foods are full of short-chain carbohydrates that cause digestive problems.
  • Gluten-free diet: Even if you don’t have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, wheat products can trigger IBS symptoms.
  • Lactose-free diet: Most adults are lactose intolerant to some degree. Removing lactose from your diet may help reduce symptoms of IBS.
  • High-fiber diet: Adding fiber to your diet can add bulk to stool, making it easier to pass. This should be helpful for patients who suffer from both constipation and diarrhea. 
  • Low-fiber diet: Cutting back on fiber can help patients who get plenty of fiber, but still suffer from diarrhea.
  • Elimination diet: Many healthcare professionals recommend elimination diets as a first step to determine “trigger foods,” or food intolerances.
  • Elemental diet: This is an extreme diet consisting of a liquid mixture full of nutrients, amino acids, fat, and carbohydrates that are easy to absorb. It is most often used to treat SIBO for a usual length of 2 weeks, but can prove effective in treating other GI complaints.

Following these diets will ensure that you avoid foods that can trigger IBS. Want more information?  Check out the 7 Best IBS Diets here.

2. Supplements

The right supplements can offer effective, all-natural relief of IBS symptoms. In fact, we have a supplement protocol for IBS reversal. Here are some supplements that can help with IBS:

  • Probiotics help to balance your gut bacteria, relieving IBS flare-ups. Look for multi-strain probiotic supplements for best results.
  • Peppermint oil is commonly used to treat nausea and pain, and is an effective remedy for IBS.
  • Magnesium is used to treat constipation, so it may help patients with IBS-C.
  • Vitamin D has proven to reduce IBS symptoms and severity.
  • Digestive enzymes help your digestive tract to function properly.
  • Herbal combinations like Candibactin AR and Candibactan BR (by Metagenics) or FC Cidal and Dysbiocide (by Biotics Research) have antimicrobial and microbiome-balancing effects. These effects have been shown in a Johns Hopkins study to improve IBS symptoms related to SIBO. 

3. Reduced Stress Levels

Long-term stress wreaks havoc on your gut health and immune system. Stress can even cause flare-ups and exaggerate IBS symptoms. We recommend the following mindfulness techniques to reduce everyday stress:

4. Good Sleep

About 40% of those with IBS also suffer from sleep disorders. While it could be argued that GI discomfort is enough to disrupt good sleep, it appears to be a two-way street. Disturbed or disordered sleep can cause IBS pain and flare-ups.

If you have trouble sleeping, we recommend the following:

  • Avoid taking naps after 2pm. The wrong nap strategy can leave you feeling wakeful at the wrong times.
  • Avoid caffeine 6-8 hours before bed. Caffeine has an unpredictable half-life. Consuming too much late in the day will inhibit your ability to wind down at night.
  • Reduce noise at night. Noise disrupts sleep for obvious reasons. If white noise helps you fall asleep, set it on a timer so it doesn’t prevent you from staying asleep. 
  • Turn out all the lights. Darkness is the best way to tell your brain it’s time to sleep. It signals the release of melatonin and helps to remove distraction. Use an eyemask if the room is not completely dark.
  • Put down your devices before bed. The blue light emitted by mobile devices can inhibit melatonin production and keep your brain wired for action. Aim to spend the last 2 hours before bed without looking at a screen.

The goal is to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. 

5. Physical Activity

Continued research shows exercise is an effective management option for IBS. In fact, physically active people are less likely to suffer from IBS than inactive people. Low-to moderate-intensity workouts are best, so stick to activities like:

  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Leisurely bike rides

If you are not very active to begin with, avoid intense exercise. Working out too intensely can induce oxidative stress and inflammation, which can trigger IBS.

6. Ask your healthcare provider about medication.

While we recommend a functional approach to treating IBS symptoms, there are several medications with minimal side effects that can provide short-term relief.

  • Antispasmodics are medications that relieve cramping. They may cause constipation, so antispasmodics are prescribed only for IBS-D patients.
  • Biofilm disruptors (e.g. oregano, cinnamon, and curcumin) safely weaken harmful bacteria’s protective shell, called a biofilm. Biofilms are resistant to antibiotics, so biofilm disruptors can help neutralize harmful bacteria’s defenses.
  • Laxatives like psyllium (Metamucil), add soluble fiber to your stool, which may help with constipation. If you take laxatives, remember to drink plenty of fluids.
  • Metronidazole and tinidazole are antiparasitic antibiotics that PrimeHealth recommends when patients test positive for parasites or methane-predominant SIBO.
  • Neomycin is an antibiotic we sometimes use for IBS-C caused by methane-predominant SIBO.
  • Over-the-counter diarrhea medications like loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) can provide short-term relief.
  • Prucalopride (Motegrity) and low-dose naltrexone are promotility agents used to treat IBS-C and, if present, SIBO. These medications support healthy bowel muscle movement (peristalsis) and can reduce constipation and bloating. Both of these medications are prescribed “off-label” to treat IBS.
  • Rifaximin is the generic form of Xifaxan. This FDA-approved antibiotic can effectively treat both IBS-D and IBS-C. (While several insurance companies shy away from its high price tag, PrimeHealth uses pharmacies in Canada to obtain a reasonably-priced generic form when needed.)

Avoiding Future Flare-Ups

Following the measures we’ve listed above, you can not only calm IBS flare-ups, but begin the journey to reversing IBS.

At PrimeHealth, we aim to identify the exact cause of IBS and build a treatment plan from there. We’ve helped patients who’ve suffered from IBS for 10 years to reverse the condition in a matter of months. If they can do it, so can you.

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