It's Just the Weather: How Heat and Humidity Affect IBS
Last updated: December 2021
For me, my body has always been vulnerable to fluctuations in the weather. In particular, my chronic pain and GI issues both tend to flare when I am exposed to weather extremes on either end. However, it's heat and humidity that really does me in, more than the cold. I am actually one of those people who isn't a huge fan of summer and breathes a sigh of relief when the first crisp evenings of autumn finally arrive. And I actually prefer winter to summer!
Hot weather and IBS
I live in New England and right now we're in the middle of a heatwave accompanied by high humidity. Already, my gut is not feeling great, not even a full day into this oppressive weather pattern. It's always been this way, even before I had full-blown IBS. But once I did develop IBS, summers were even worse for me health-wise. In fact, some of my worst bouts of IBS occurred during the summer. I began to wonder if this was a common thread for others with similar or the same diagnoses, or something more unique to my own physical make-up.
What does research say?
A quick Google search showed I am not alone. Many people on Reddit and other chat boards about IBS attest to feeling worse and having symptom flares with increased heat and humidity. One website focused on IBS even noted that heat and humidity definitely seems to be a trigger for many IBS patients. The theory posited on that site was that the gut is home to most of the body serotonin and humidity levels impact serotonin levels. And researchers still note people prone to arthritis and migraines tend to complain that in general they experience increased inflammation and pain in the rise in humidity.1 While studies have been inconclusive, they have also been minimal (and don't tend to analyze female patients, who suffer disproportionately from IBS and other pain conditions).
While the jury is out on the correlation and reasoning, at least for me, I know my body has a tough time during this weather. So, when the thermostat rises, I am extra cautious about what I eat and when, not overexerting myself, and keeping cool as best I can. While I am always somewhat careful about my diet, I tend to eat much lighter (though smaller meals and snacking) in the hot weather and even more aggressively avoid trigger foods. I stay indoors and out of the sun during peak hours and wait until evening when it's cooled down. So, I stick to home or go to a place with AC like a movie theater or art gallery. Basically, I take it really easy. By doing this I at least minimize flares, if not eliminate them completely.
Do you experience flares during hot and humid weather? If so, what do you do to cope and manage your symptoms?
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?