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Top IBS Triggers and Symptoms

We recently conducted the 5th IBS In America survey. For this survey, we asked the community about experiences living with IBS, including top triggers and symptoms. The survey taught us that abdominal cramps and pain are experienced most, with other common symptoms including bloating, urgent need to move bowels and gas.

Of those who took the survey, 88 percent report abdominal cramps and pain, followed by 84 percent who report bloating as the most common symptom. In addition, 82 percent of respondents report the urgent need to move bowels, and 80 percent report excessive gas or flatulence as other top symptoms. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all symptoms and what percent of people living with IBS experience them.

Top IBS symptoms among advocates

We asked the advocates, "If comfortable, share what your most common symptoms are and how they affect your day-to-day life."

Amy Dodd Pilkington, IBS advocate"I have recently experienced a drastic increase in the amount and severity of cramps. The urgent need to go has also become more pressing. This is greatly affecting my quality of life as I attempt to adjust to these changes. I feel like I spend a good portion of my day in pain and running back and forth to the bathroom." – Amy P.

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Shannon Grantham, IBS Advocate"The constant feel of needing to go is my worst symptom. I am lucky that I don't get the pain others do as often. I do, on a good day, have diarrhea at least 10 times a day. On a bad day it can be more than 20. If I am having a bad day it can make me feel like I never have a chance to leave the bathroom, which results in a hard time finding a job that can work with me." – Shannon G.

Karina Ioffe, IBS Advocate"My most common symptoms are urgency and bloating, and I either get 1 or the other. Sometimes, I have 1 IBS-D flare after another and don't feel well for a week or 2. Then, I deal with urgency (during the flares), fatigue, sometimes nausea. During these periods, I struggle the most with anxiety, have trouble being productive, and don't want to leave the house very often. Other times, I don't have flares for weeks but get very bloated. This mostly causes me to constantly feel uncomfortable, especially since I tend to look pregnant when I am not. The discomfort also prevents me from sleeping very well." – Karina

Sawyer Matheny, IBS Advocate"My most common symptoms would probably have to be all the above! Cramps and gurgling are usually loudest and clear symptoms. The gurgling can be extremely loud and often embarrassing. The cramps can be pretty bad but can be soothed with massaging of my abdomen. My gas can be uncomfortable, especially when I'm out and about and unsure if it will be diarrhea. I usually find myself hesitant to eat when I'm out. The anxiety of trying to find a bathroom can keep my food sober until I'm comfortable." – Sawyer

Advocates share top IBS triggers

In addition to the most common symptoms, 92 percent of those who took the In America survey identified triggers for their IBS, with stress, anxiety, and select food items being the leaders.

We asked the advocates, "What types of food are your absolute worst triggers?" Here is what they shared:

  • "Anything fried will send me running for the bathroom. Raw vegetables is another big trigger food." – Amy P.
  • "Meat, dairy, leafy vegetables, coffee, caffeine, sugar." – Shannon G.
  • "Recently, my worst triggers have been pumpkin and dairy. Others are coffee, onions, garlic, and fatty foods." – Karina
  • "Warm cheese, grease/greasy foods, soups, hot coffee or chocolate, sugar-free candy/gum, cheeseburgers, heavy meats, milk, milkshakes, ice cream, apples." – Sawyer

Share your experiences

How about you? What are some known triggers of yours? How about your symptoms? Have they changed over the years? Share in the comments below or visit our forums.

The 5th IBS In America survey was conducted online from June 8 through August 3, 2020. All of the 1,930 people who completed the survey have been screened to have IBS symptoms.

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