You might wonder, can IBS have flare-ups, and what does this mean?
Flares are typical in IBS and can cause a sudden worsening of symptoms even when you exclusively eat a low FODMAP diet. More than your diet can trigger IBS symptoms. This is very frustrating and can lead to the belief that there's another problem going on.
What’s causing my IBS flare-up?
Some common triggers for functional gastrointestinal disorders, individually or in combination, are:
- A stressful day: Through the gut-brain connection, stress can cause hyperactivity and hypersensitivity in your intestine, which in turn causes increased pain reception by nerves - regardless of what you ate (1)
- Accidental food trigger: You might accidentally "stack" FODMAPs, causing IBS attacks with bloating and pain. Or consuming a meal high in fats, sugars, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, or caffeine triggers your symptoms (2).
- Strenuous exercise: High-intensity interval training for several hours can aggregate symptoms. Gentle or low-impact activities are recommended for those with IBS (3)
- Poor sleep: Sleep disruption aggravates gastrointestinal (such as abdominal pain) and non-GI symptoms (such as joint or muscle pain and headaches) in people with IBS (4)
How to calm my IBS flare-up: 8 tips to relieve symptoms
An IBS flare-up can be frustrating and cause various digestive symptoms. If you're experiencing a flare, you can do these helpful, drug-free strategies at home.
1. Avoid food triggers such as FODMAPs & caffeine
Only eat low-FODMAP meals you've prepared and eaten before until your symptoms are gone. It's also best to avoid caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and fatty and highly processed foods during a flare-up. Caffeine is found in tea, soft drinks, coffee, and chocolate. Consuming caffeine may overstimulate your GI tract and cause cramps or abdominal pain. Foods that soothe IBS are low in FODMAPs, and easy to digest, such as kiwi.
Download your free low FODMAP app here.
2. Moment of Self-Care to breathe
Take a break from what you're doing. Grab a glass of water, prepare a cup of mint tea, and sit down for 20 minutes. Try this diaphragmatic breathing technique. It helps to put your body in relaxation mode. You can also use this technique to pass stool by creating a regular bowel movement when experiencing constipation (10).
3. Apply gentle heat
Heat therapy reduces the blood flow to the abdominal muscles, promoting relaxation and resulting in a reduction in contractions & associated cramping (5). You can take a hot bath or use a warm heat pad. Always place a towel between your skin and the heat source to avoid burns.
4. Peppermint oil capsules
This herbal supplement is FDA-approved and well-supported in clinical studies as an effective means of relieving IBS symptoms. The active ingredient, menthol, has a natural cooling effect, dulling pain receptors and relaxing colon muscles (6).
5. Gentle Bowel Massage
Massaging the abdomen can aid in promoting bowel movements, particularly if you are experiencing constipation (7). One massage technique especially helpful for IBS follows the path of the large intestine. Follow these steps:
- Place your hands just above the right hip bone
- Rub in a circular, clockwise direction with light pressure up toward the right side of the ribcage
- Then rub straight across the upper belly area toward the left rib cage
- Move slowly down toward the left hip bone
- Repeat as necessary
If the massage causes pain, it is best to discontinue it immediately.
6. Light movement
Moderate and low-impact physical activity improves bowel motility, which helps release excess gas and stool. When you feel constipated, it's even more important to move. A short walk around the block (20-30 minutes) can provide fast relief from gas and bloat. (3)
7. Yoga Poses
For a walk-through of specific poses to ease bloating, you can follow this class. Specific yoga poses that can relieve gas and promote bowel motility include visiting our social media page for pose instruction (8):
- Child’s pose
- Knees-to-chest Pose
- Happy Baby Pose
- Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- Supine Twist
- Seated Spinal Twist
When to seek medical help
If you haven't seen a doctor yet for your digestive symptoms, we strongly recommend you visit your licensed healthcare professional. If you've received a diagnosis, always consult your healthcare professional if your symptoms change or your stool contains, for example, blood. It's always important to understand what's causing your symptoms before taking any medications and making dietary changes.