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A frustrated man sits at a table as the sun & moon rise and set around him.

How Long Do Flare Ups Last?

Someone asked me the other day how long a flare-up can last. I gave her the standard answer of two to four days. This is what my doctor told me and this is what I’ve seen in most everything I’ve read about IBS. I provided the caveat that everyone experiences IBS differently and that one person’s flares may be more or less intense and may last shorter or longer periods. After providing this very safe answer, I started to think about my own experience. When you think of the FLARE UP you think of the times when your IBS symptoms go berserk and you can’t much leave the toilet OR you are in excruciating pain from constipation. Or both… And all the other stuff that goes with it. The bloating is worse, cramps worse, fatigue WORSE. I don’t know about you but it is very hard to gauge just how long this all lasts. Does it matter? It’s like counting days in Hell. I guess the main reason it matters is that it gives you something to work towards. Decreasing the intensity and duration of my IBS flare-ups has been a really good place for me to set my focus. Because of the ‘no cure’ aspect associated with IBS, managing the intensity and duration of symptoms gives me something real, something tangible to deal with.

How long can IBS flare-ups last?

As far as the duration. I keep a journal for almost every important aspect of my life. I have a mental health journal, physical health (non-IBS related), daily life journal and of course, an IBS journal. When going through the IBS reading (man, this is a tough illness) I realized that there were points where I wasn’t sure when one flare up stopped and when another started. It seemed a hell of a lot longer than four days. Much longer. I will say that the worst ones were in the beginning after my diagnosis and during times of extreme stress and unhappiness. I most certainly have had flare-ups that have lasted a day. At first the ‘long’ flare-ups greatly outnumbered the one-day affairs. As I played around with my diet and started exercising, I noticed a slight change. It didn’t hurt as much. It was minor but noticeable. Once I started figuring out how my IBS works (as much as any of us can) I started to make some progress towards decreasing the intensity and duration.

Maintain a lifestyle that helps with flare-ups

The trick is maintaining the lifestyle that can help with flare-ups. That is the most important thing. If the diet slips or I don’t feel like exercising for a month, well, back to hell. The other thing I think we have to realize is that sometimes there are just too many things out of our control (life situations, other illnesses, stress) that kind of take the power out of our hands. Someone said the other day that we are expected to fight the illness and not let it take control of our lives. This is true. But I don’t know of anything in this world where you have control all the time. IBS is one of the more perfect examples I can think of.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • ADITYA0811
    9 months ago

    I feel like I resonate with most of you . Currently after 2months I am having flare up , remember I was really well throughout March April May but now from Saturday evening I am having the flare.Its now uncontrollable so I ate an antacid rabesac d 30mg,I don’t usually take meds but stomach I can’t handle,I don’t know whether this will help me or not as pain comes and goes ,heavy nausea .

  • Mewsician
    9 months ago

    “Someone said the other day that we are expected to fight the illness and not let it take control of our lives.” That’s probably the worst thing about my IBS. What a stress causer! The rules for taking sick time at my job are medieval, so you can imagine how well they accommodate my fairly brief but frequent flare ups. Apparently city workers in my town (I work for the public library) are not allowed to get sick and come in an hour or two late. If you do that more than three times a year, you get written up. Therefore, we must get sick in the expected way: by having the flu once a year. I wonder how many other illnesses cause frequent short-term work absences…I have a feeling there are loads!

  • tmholland moderator author
    9 months ago

    @mewsician,

    Thanks for you comments. I absolutely loved the ‘medieval’ sick time comments. How incredibly true. I work for county, so I completely understand. We’ve all got to find a way to deal with this stress, because you’re right, IBS is one of the most stressful things I can think of. Remember you have support here and hang in there. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • dawson
    9 months ago

    Hi all, I had a flare up last week that lasted a week save for a few days in between total days and nights where I was experiencing agonizing stomach pains. It is very frightening as, when I am feeling good and am so thankful, I am nervous about the pains returning.

  • tmholland moderator author
    9 months ago

    Hi @dawson,

    Thank you for chiming in. One of the worst things I ever had to deal with in this whole IBS ‘adventure’ was the worrying about when it was going to happen AGAIN. Through using several coping skills, meditation and mindfulness, I was able to overcome this challenge. I hope you will find your own way past it. I also hope that you are doing well today. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • dawson
    9 months ago

    Hi Todd, I am coming to grips with understanding that I can go months without any pains and then when I do have pains … they will pass and all will be well again! Coping and understanding as you say. Thanks and take care !

  • Dors
    9 months ago

    I have never had a flare up like this one I’m having right now. It started last Wednesday afternoon. First I thought I had a stomach flue. But then the symptoms turned from Water faucet to stomach pain and being totally blocked up. I’ve never had anything but diarrhea. It always made me feel like I had a flue for a couple of days, but this pain is totally different. It’s stabbing and twisting and makes me double over. Then I have a bout of diarrhea again and then go back to constipation. I’m drowning myself in Water but have not noticed that it makes any difference.
    Anybody else have stuff like this going on and for that long? Thank you!

  • tmholland moderator author
    9 months ago

    @dors,

    I’m sorry for the pain you are going through. I have had a similar experience. I am including an article I recently wrote that might resonate with you. It’s a long journey but hopefully you will eventually find something that can provide some relief. Remember we are here for your support. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

    https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/living/struggling-alternating-ibs/

  • ExplodingGuts
    9 months ago

    I would keep a record of IBS (or anything else) only if it helps you notice a pattern. Respirologist made me track breathing tests 2x a day for awhile to control asthma. VERY effective. His view is that asthma-acid reflux are closely related. Also, measuring breath prevented unnecessary puffs, which may irritate stomach.

    For me, I don’t remember a time before stomach and respiratory distress, so this is an old stress response for me. i am trying to unlearn it and achieve a relaxed, healthy response but it requires deep learning. I’ll get there.

    In the meantime, my Bowen healer, has advised tbsp of apple cider vinegar an hour before eating, and this has helped SO MUCH. Happily, my flare-ups now are but a few hours – usually beginning at about 3:30 am. About 3 Immodium taken as directed seems to give me peace but I’d sure like to be able to stop taking even that. It’s getting markedly better with concerted effort first to notice the stress response and then to replace it with calm breathing and so on. A dentist years ago taught me to heal my TMJ, another stress response, simply by becoming aware of jaw clenching. After a few days of concerted effort, hey, presto! I was cured. The stomach distress, however, is much older. I don’t remember not having it to at least some degree. But I’m getting there.

  • tmholland moderator author
    9 months ago

    Hi @explodingguts,

    Thank you for your comments. It sounds like you are very self-aware and have a very good understanding of the illness. You have obviously put in a ton of work to try to manage your various challenges. You deserve a lot of credit. I hope you are well today and thank you for your contributions to the site. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • tmholland moderator author
    9 months ago

    Thank you for your comments @Roxzilla. It seems like you understand completely. A few days for the flare up is pretty standard. It’s the before and after that truly make IBS hard to live with sometimes. Unpredictable, yup, more than anything I can think of. Hope you are well today. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • haystack56
    9 months ago

    Do you notice an onset of a severe headache/migraine before “a day of hell” with IBS? At work on Monday, I had trouble concentrating, had a bit of blurry vision. (I work 10 hour shifts on a computer all day) Then woke up at 5:00am on Tuesday with a splitting headache, nausea, and well, you know the rest. Got rid of the headache after about 10 hours. This ever happen to you?

  • ExplodingGuts
    9 months ago

    For me, migraines are pretty much triggered by a drop in the barometric pressure. When we move from winter to warmer weather – boom. IBS explosions typically begin at about 3:30 a.m. Can’t recall if I’ve had both explosions and migraine at once. If I did, Immodium until explosions cease then it’s all about migraine and getting that to stop.

  • tmholland moderator author
    9 months ago

    @haystack56, No, I don’t experience the headache/migraine prior to the onset. That’s probably because I don’t generally get headaches at all. I think IBS is tailored to take our weaknesses and exploits them :-). I get the nausea and really bad stomach cramps. I’m sure there are tons of people here who have the migraine before the flare. I know I’ve read several scenarios like this. Hope you are at least doing well today. All we can do is try. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • dawson
    9 months ago

    I do experience any headaches either but have no history of headaches so it is likely clear your more susceptible aspects of your health are weakened and involved in a flare up…

  • ExplodingGuts
    9 months ago

    That’s a VERY astute observation, T. I agree. IBS evolves according to our weaknesses.

  • @Roxzilla_
    9 months ago

    My really bad ones last a few days at a time, but every day I am still in the bathroom at least a few hours which sucks 🙁 The unpredictability of this illness is the worst

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