Managing IBS symptoms & flare ups


With 10-20 percent of adults in the UK suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it's one of the most common digestive issues. The severity of symptoms varies, ranging from uncomfortable to more severe symptoms. There are many things that you can try to help manage your symptoms of IBS without medicines.

What is IBS?

IBS is a disorder of the large intestine. While the intestine may be physically normal, it does not function properly. This can result in abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, and nausea.

While the causes of IBS are unknown, it's thought that it can sometimes develop after an episode of gastroenteritis – a common stomach problem that causes diarrhoea and vomiting that's caused by bacteria or a virus. It's also noted that stress can worsen symptoms.

There's no test for IBS, so your doctor will probably want to rule out other conditions before reaching a diagnosis of IBS. It's important to get your symptoms diagnosed before attempting to manage them yourself.

What can you do to manage your symptoms?

You may find that your diet affects the severity of your IBS symptoms. When food passes through the gut, bacteria act upon that food to digest it.

Different people will find that different foods can trigger their episodes. It's worth keeping a diary of your food and your symptoms to try to spot patterns.

Reducing your intake of these foods and drinks may help to relieve symptoms:

• Fruit – you should limit yourself to no more than three pieces a day

• Artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, often found in diet fizzy drinks and diabetic-specific foods

• Dairy products

• Vegetables that are tricky to digest such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower

• Caffeine

• Fatty foods

• Spicy foods

• Alcohol

Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, limiting caffeine to three cups of coffee or tea per day, and getting regular exercise can also help ease symptoms.

Stress can also worsen IBS symptoms. Find some time for yourself on a regular basis, talk with a friend over hot drinks, take up an old hobby or develop a new one to help reduce stress levels. You could also try meditation or mindfulness exercises.

Which medicines can you take to relieve symptoms?

If IBS symptoms are not improved by lifestyle changes, or if your symptoms get worse, you may need to consider taking medication. Discuss which medication fits your symptoms with your pharmacist or Doctor.

• Laxatives are used for constipation caused by IBS. Avoid lactulose products as they can worsen symptoms

• Anti-motility agents like loperamide can sometimes control diarrhoea symptoms

• Anti-spasmodic medicines may reduce abdominal cramps

When should I see my Doctor?

If you find that your symptoms are not getting better or are getting worse, it's best to check with your Doctor that there is no underlying cause for your symptoms. Always see your Doctor if you have blood in your stools, loss of appetite, or a sudden weight loss.

Next steps

• Control IBS symptoms through avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms, regularly exercising and reducing your everyday stress

• During a flare up, or if your symptoms are not controlled, ask your pharmacist's or Doctor's advice on which medicine would be most suitable for you

• Always speak to your Doctor if you get new symptoms like blood mixed with stools, or if your symptoms are not improving