How to Find Lasting Relief From IBS Flare-Ups

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IBS flare-ups are relatively common, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t treatable and preventable. Irritable bowel syndrome can greatly impact your quality of life, but by gaining a greater understanding of your triggers, you’re one step closer to reducing how often flare-ups happen.

At least 12% of adults experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — most of them women — although many people go undiagnosed. The team of providers at PrimeHealth helps our patients identify the root cause of IBS flare-ups and put an end to IBS symptoms.

How does IBS affect the body? IBS affects the body’s gastrointestinal tract, resulting in cramping, bloating, flatulence, and abdominal pain, as well as diarrhea or constipation.

Is IBS impacting your everyday life? Schedule a free consultation with PrimeHealth’s experts right away! You’ll be paired with a team including a primary care provider, health coach, and other specialists to get to the root of your health issues. Our integrative clinic is located in Denver, Colorado.

What Is an IBS Flare-Up?

IBS flare-ups, sometimes called IBS attacks, are when certain triggers lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms worsening. 

Typically, IBS symptoms occur sporadically — not during every trip to the bathroom. Certain underlying triggers can cause a temporary worsening of symptoms, AKA flare-ups.

For example, if you eat gluten or dairy products (common IBS triggers for many people), you may experience worsening symptoms of IBS, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. IBS not only leads to gut health issues but even mental health problems.

What does an IBS flare feel like? 

IBS flare-ups feel differently depending on the person and situation, but common symptoms include:

  • Increase in anxiety
  • Stomach pain
  • Cramping
  • Urgency
  • Bloating
  • Increased flatulence (gas)
  • Change in bowel consistency

How long does an IBS flare-up last? 

An IBS flare-up may last as long as IBS triggers remain, or it may resolve after a single bowel movement. Taking into consideration lifestyle factors, changes and triggers can all help you learn how to minimize the length of a flare.

For instance, travel, anxiety, alcohol and caffeine all increase likelihood of a flare. Planning ahead of time, bringing essentials with you when you travel, incorporating mindfulness and avoiding foods that trigger you can all help you mitigate the length of the flare. 

Sometimes, even with your tools, flares will happen anyway. In these instances, prescription medications can help shorten the duration of the flare.

How Is IBS Different From IBD?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that causes a group of symptoms including cramping, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an autoimmune disorder characterized by intestinal inflammation. Symptoms of IBD may be similar to IBS but are much more pronounced, and there are several symptoms unique to IBD. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the two primary types of IBD.

Read more: IBS vs. IBD

Common Triggers

There are a myriad of IBS flare-up triggers, making it impossible to prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to IBS treatment. Preventing IBS flare-ups requires you to learn what causes IBS for you and then addressing that root cause.

The most common triggers include diet, stress, hormones, and medication. Let’s break these down.

Dietary Triggers

One of the most common IBS triggers is your diet. Whether it’s a food sensitivity like lactose intolerance or exposure to unhealthy inflammatory agents like fried foods, dietary triggers are known to cause IBS flare-ups.

The most common dietary IBS triggers include:

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Stress Triggers

Stress and anxiety are related conditions that can lead to IBS flare-ups. A little temporary stress is normal — same with anxiety. But prolonged stress and anxiety can disrupt your gastrointestinal tract, as well as your whole-body health.

Stress is highly correlated with IBS flare-ups. This 2014 study emphasizes the importance of managing stress when treating IBS through an integrative approach.

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Medical Triggers

Certain medications have IBS flare-ups as a side effect. Some pharmaceuticals commonly lead to bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea, or constipation.

These are common prescription and over-the-counter medications that may cause IBS flare-ups:

  • Too much laxative medication
  • Too much antidiarrheal medication
  • Too much psyllium (fiber)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Long-term antibiotics
  • Medicine made with sugar alcohols such as sorbitol
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Chemotherapy drugs

On initial consultation, we review active and past medication use to determine what has been working to alleviate IBS symptoms. Case-by-case, we make a joint decision about need for medication. 

We often are able to utilize natural and behavioral solutions, but use pharmaceuticals as needed in order to comprehensively treat your IBS and provide an individualized approach.

Listen to our lead physician, Dr. Soyona Rafatjah, discuss the root cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome on the Broken Brain Podcast!

Hormonal Triggers

Changes to your unique balance of hormones can result in IBS flare-ups. Certain hormones impact your digestive system more than others.

Changes in levels of sex hormones may increase inflammation, worsening IBS symptoms. We encounter a lot of women who experience cramping, excessive gas, and diarrhea every time their hormones shift. Regulating hormones is critical to preventing IBS flare-ups.

Read more: Period Poops: Why They Happen & How to Stop Them 

Work with hormone experts to identify why your hormones are changing, such as irregular menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, chronic stress, home or workplace toxins, etc. If you identify the source of your hormone imbalance, you can treat the root cause.

How to Treat and Prevent IBS Flare-Ups

Fortunately, there’s hope if you experience IBS flare-ups — your life doesn’t have to be ruled by planning bathroom stops.

How do you calm down an IBS flare-up? You calm down an IBS flare-up by treating the root cause of your IBS symptoms through dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments, natural remedies, or medications — all potential treatments or prevention strategies for IBS flare-ups.

Dietary Changes

Many people have to make dietary changes to prevent IBS flare-ups. The best IBS diet is an elimination diet or a low-FODMAP diet. Some people also benefit from eliminating gluten and dairy.

An elimination diet is when you eliminate all possible triggers and allergens, slowly reintroducing one trigger at a time to see which one may be causing your IBS flare-ups.

A low-FODMAP diet is when you eliminate FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) from your diet. 

FODMAPs are specific carbohydrates that commonly result in IBS symptoms, such as fructose. Cutting FODMAP foods out of your diet is widely recognized as an IBS treatment.

If you don’t want to go on a full diet, you have to identify if you have any sensitivities to common IBS-trigger foods, such as lactose or wheat. If you do, avoid eating those trigger foods.

Consider talking to a gastroenterologist or registered dietitian for medical advice about an IBS diet.

Personal note: I’ve worked with many patients struggling with IBS related to SIBO, and sometimes, their “healthy” diet leads to worse IBS flare-ups. If you’re struggling with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), a low-FODMAP diet may actually worsen your symptoms.

Please see a provider in your area for SIBO testing to rule this out before making a major change to your diet. If you’re in Colorado, learn how PrimeHealth’s providers can help you reverse IBS.

Lifestyle Changes

Regular exercise and purposeful stress relief are the two best lifestyle changes you can make for better whole-body health, including IBS flare-up prevention.

Consistent physical exercise not only fights obesity and promotes a healthy heart, but it also results in fewer IBS symptoms, according to decades of research.

Relieving daily stresses does wonders for your wellness. Chronic stress can lead to IBS flare-ups, so stress relief can prevent them. Although conventional researchers say that stress alone cannot cause IBS, they also agree stress worsens symptoms and leads to flare-ups of pre-existing IBS.

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Proven stress relief and relaxation techniques:

Natural Remedies

These natural supplements and at-home remedies may reduce your risk of IBS flare-ups:

Acupuncture is another natural treatment option which can help lower stress and regulate your nervous system. Some studies show that acupuncture reduces IBS symptoms.

Medication

Certain medications help with IBS flare-ups. Some are targeted towards diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D) while others may be targeted towards constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C).

IBS medications include:

  • Promotility agents, like Motegrity (prucalopride)
  • Laxatives, such as Metamucil (psyllium)
  • Antidiarrheals, like Imodium (loperamide)
  • Antibiotics, such as Xifaxan (rifaximin)
  • Antispasmodics, such as Bentyl (dicyclomine)
  • SSRI antidepressants, such as Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Pain-blocking medications, like Vicodin (hydrocodone)

Because of potential side effects and the more natural alternatives, we don’t recommend medication as a first-line treatment. However, mindful prescriptions can make the difference between temporary relief and permanent IBS reversal.

Get a Proper Diagnosis

You can’t treat and prevent IBS flare-ups without diagnosing the root cause of your IBS issues.

At PrimeHealth, our team of doctors has diagnosed and treated hundreds of people like you experiencing IBS. We diagnose more thoroughly than conventional doctors, utilizing more testing and targeted questions. 

Diagnosis may include family medical history, symptom questionnaire, stool tests, and SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) breath tests.

The mainstream Rome IV Criteria recommends an IBS diagnosis be based on the following:

  • Abdominal pain, at least 1 day a week for 3 months, associated with stool frequency or appearance
  • If “diarrhea” and/or “constipation” can characterize at least 25% of your bowel movements

Wherever you go for medical care, make sure to get a proper diagnosis. This is important not only for better treatment but also because a diagnosis may lead to better insurance coverage. 

IBS also presents with symptoms that are commonly misdiagnosed. Make sure your healthcare provider is treating the right condition at the root cause.

Is There an IBS Cure?

Conventional doctors and researchers say there is no cure for IBS. 

However, at PrimeHealth we have worked with hundreds of individuals to permanently reverse their IBS. We do this by identifying and addressing your unique underlying cause(s) so you can take control of your digestive health.

At PrimeHealth’s Denver clinic, we have helped hundreds of patients like you who experience chronic IBS. We work with you to form a treatment plan and lifestyle changes that may permanently reverse your IBS. Schedule your free consultation today!

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