A woman sitting on a couch holding her stomach.
IBS attacks can happen gradually or all of a sudden, causing severe abdominal pain.

Symptoms of IBS Attack

IBS is a widespread digestive disorder that affects approximately 10% to 15% of the population. It can be both painful and distressing, especially when an IBS attack strikes. Therefore, it is essential to know what causes these flare-ups and how to deal with them effectively.

In this article, we explain the symptoms of an IBS attack. We will also look at various ways to treat and prevent them.

What is IBS?

IBS is a functional digestive disorder. This means that there is nothing physically wrong with the digestive system, but it does not function correctly.

In healthy people, the gut contracts at regular intervals. These contractions allow digested food to pass through the intestines to the anus.

However, with IBS, these contractions can happen too fast or too slowly. When the gut contracts too much, food passes through too quickly causing diarrhea. If it does not contract enough, food passes through too slowly leading to constipation.

Scientists are still trying to figure out the exact cause of IBS. However, it appears to be the result of dysfunction in the way the bowel and the brain communicate with one another.

In addition to constipation and diarrhea, IBS can cause a number of other uncomfortable symptoms. Let’s take a closer look.

IBS Symptoms

IBS affects everyone differently. Some patients tend to suffer from diarrhea (IBS-D) and some tend to suffer from constipation (IBS-C). Some patients experience a combination of the two and this is known as mixed-type IBS (IBS-M).

Some other common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Mucus in the stools
  • Incomplete passing of stools

Some patients also experience indigestion and nausea, although this is more unusual. Furthermore, IBS often occurs alongside mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

IBS Treatment

In many cases, IBS can be controlled by making some dietary and lifestyle changes. Dieticians often recommend that patients keep a diary of what they eat and drink, and how this affects their symptoms. Doing this allows them to identify and avoid any potential triggers.

If IBS symptoms cannot be controlled by diet alone, prescription and over-the-counter medications are available. These include antispasmodics that normalize the contractions of the bowel and fiber supplements to relieve constipation.

Some patients with IBS find probiotics helpful, although they do not work for everyone. Experts recommend trying them for at least a month to determine whether they work for you.

Other people swear by complementary therapies, including acupuncture and hypnotherapy. Although there is little clinical evidence to confirm how effective these IBS treatments are, they are relatively safe and may be worth a try.

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What is an IBS Attack?

IBS symptoms often come and go over time. They may flare up in response to a particular food or drink, or during periods of emotional stress.

Sometimes, these attacks can be chronic, lasting for several days or weeks. Other times, IBS attacks can be acute, producing dramatic symptoms almost immediately after exposure to a trigger.

For example, some people experience IBS attacks when they consume certain foods and drinks. They can trigger symptoms including:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Urgent need to defecate
  • Diarrhea
  • Incontinence

Suffering from an IBS attack can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing. Therefore, people with IBS may feel anxious when out and about without knowing where the nearest bathroom is. They may avoid dining at restaurants or in eating in social situations for fear of triggering an attack.

What Causes IBS Attacks?

There are many different things that can cause an IBS attack. Some common triggers include:

  • Spicy food
  • Rich or fatty food
  • Some fruit and vegetables
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Stress

People with IBS often need to keep a diary for several weeks in order to identify their personal triggers.

IBS Attack Treatment

If you have an IBS attack, there are a few things you can do to relieve your symptoms. These include:

  • Taking antispasmodic medication
  • Drinking peppermint tea (peppermint is a natural antispasmodic)
  • Applying a heat pack to the abdomen to relieve pain
  • Breathing deeply or practicing other relaxation techniques

Of course, prevention is always better than cure. Here are some steps you can take to stop IBS attacks from happening in the first place.

How to Prevent IBS Attacks

Many of our tips for preventing IBS attacks are similar to those for managing the condition in general. They include:

  • Identifying trigger foods and avoiding them
  • Eating at regular intervals throughout the day
  • Not skipping or delaying meals
  • Carefully controlling the amount of fiber you consume
  • Drinking enough water to prevent constipation
  • Trying probiotics for at least one month
  • Taking medication if necessary
  • Exercising regularly to aid healthy gut contractions
  • Managing stress levels with breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga

If you are still suffering from IBS attacks after making the above lifestyle adjustments, your physician may recommend a special diet. One option is the FODMAP diet, which aims to eliminate a particular type of carbohydrate that ferments in the gut. However, this diet is quite restrictive, so it is often seen as a last resort.

For more information on how to relieve IBS attack symptoms, consult your doctor or a qualified dietician.