6 IBS Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on September 4, 2020
  • woman-using-blender-in-kitchen
    Tying Your Symptoms to Your Triggers
    No one knows for sure what causes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). What brings on its symptoms, though, is a bit clearer. How you eat and what you eat can make a difference. So can several things that have nothing to do with food. Knowing these triggers and what to do about them can help you manage your IBS.
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    1. Eating Large Meals
    The main trigger of IBS symptoms is eating a meal. People with IBS may have a super-sensitive digestive system. Eating stimulates the system. You can’t avoid eating, but you can reduce this trigger by eating smaller meals. Large meals are more likely to cause symptoms. Try eating 5 to 6 small meals spread out through the day. Eat your meals slowly. Also, drink plenty of water.
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    2. Certain Foods
    The foods that trigger IBS symptoms vary from person to person. To find the foods that bring on your symptoms, keep a food diary. Make a list of the foods you eat that seem to cause symptoms. Pay special attention to common triggers. These include coffee, chocolate, alcohol, nuts, milk, artificial sweeteners, and high-fat foods. Share your findings with your doctor. You may want to try not eating a possible food trigger for about 12 weeks. If your symptoms improve, don’t go back to that food.
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    3. Gas-Causing Foods
    Foods that produce lots of gas are common triggers for IBS. Gas builds up in your colon. This causes bloating and cramps. This can be a problem even for people who don't have IBS. Include these foods in your food diary too. But, you might just want to stay away from them altogether. Foods known to cause gas include onions, Brussels sprouts, lentils, cauliflower, legumes, beans and cabbage.
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    4. Stress
    For many people, stress triggers IBS symptoms. Symptoms of IBS can also cause stress. It can be a vicious cycle. You can reduce stress by avoiding situations you know are stressful. Other good ways to reduce stress are to get enough sleep and regular, preferably daily exercise. Yoga works for many people. If you're struggling with stress, talk to a mental health therapist. Psychodynamic therapy is a talk therapy that includes stress reduction.
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    5. Depression and Anxiety
    Feeling depressed or anxious, or both, are very common triggers of IBS symptoms. Not only can these feelings bring on your symptoms, but they can make them worse. Your colon and your nervous system share many of the same controls. Anxiety and depression can also weaken your immune system. This can trigger symptoms too. Talk with your doctor about depression or anxiety. In some cases, talk therapy or a low-dose antidepressant can control these triggers.
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    6. Menstrual Periods
    IBS is more common in women than men. Changes in female hormones may be one of the reasons why. Many women with IBS find their symptoms get worse during a menstrual cycle. Menstrual periods may trigger pain, bloating and diarrhea. Talk with your doctor about this trigger. You may not be able to avoid it, but your doctor may be able to help. It also helps to know when to expect a flare, because you can take extra care to avoid other known IBS triggers.
6 IBS Triggers and How to Avoid Them

About The Author

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  7. Bharadwaj S, Barber MD, Graff LA, and Shen B. Symptomatology of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease during the menstrual cycle. Gastroenterology Report. 2015;3(3):185-193.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 4
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