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A frowning woman suppressing an alarm bell in her intestines as she drinks a milkshake.

5 Triggers That Might Worsen IBS

IBS is a condition with no known cause. But there can be a range of potential triggers to watch out for. Here are 5 things that may worsen IBS.

Diet triggers

Food is probably the best-known trigger for IBS. Some of the more common foods that can worsen symptoms include:

A diet high in fiber

Whole grains, vegetables, and fruit are all good sources of fiber. While dietary fiber is beneficial for the gut as it is fuel for gut bacteria and helps prevent constipation, in some people with IBS it can worsen symptoms.

Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat and barley which some people with IBS may not tolerate well. Some people can be intolerant to gluten while others can have a severe immune reaction known as celiac disease.

Dairy

Dairy can cause problems in people with IBS for a few reasons: it can be high in fat which some people may struggle to digest, or they don’t digest lactose very well which is the sugar found in milk products, or the problem could be the A1 protein found in cow’s milk.

Apart from being high in fat, fried and processed foods are more difficult to digest which can cause digestive issues.

Foods high in FODMAPs

Foods that are considered high FODMAP can cause problems for IBS. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. FODMAP’s are fermentable, short-chain carbohydrates or sugars that are harder to digest. Examples of high FODMAP foods include milk, garlic, onions, chickpeas, wheat, cauliflower, honey, sugar alcohols.

Caffeine

Caffeine can stimulate the intestine causing symptoms such as diarrhea.

Alcohol

Alcohol can trigger symptoms because alcohol leads to dehydration, it makes your stomach make more acid and irritates and inflames the digestive system.

More on this topic

There can be a range of food triggers for IBS. If you're struggling to find what your triggers are, try working with a qualified health professional such as a nutritionist.

Infection

In some people, IBS arises after becoming sick with gastroenteritis. IBS that develops after gastroenteritis is known as post-infectious IBS. Symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, bloating and diarrhea can continue despite the pathogen being killed with antibiotics.

Hormones

Many women with IBS notice their symptoms change at different points during their menstrual cycle and can be especially worse during their period. Research supports this and shows that fluctuations of hormones can alter gastrointestinal function.1

Drugs

The oral contraceptive pill has been shown in studies to alter the gut microbiome and increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease, therefore it is feasible that the pill could worsen IBS symptoms.2

Other medicines that could worsen symptoms are antidepressants and medicine that is made with sugar alcohol or polyols known as sorbitol.

Stress

Chronic stress or anxiety can alter the functions of the gut through the nervous system. It can increase the sensitivity of organs, change the digestive secretions, contribute to inflammation, prevent blood flow, and cause an imbalance in gut bacteria.

Having chronic high levels of stress or persistent anxiety can lead to a disturbance in communication between the gut and the brain.3 This can then cause the gut to be overactive which leads to diarrhea or the gut can slow down which can lead to constipation.

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