- IBS Definition
- Stress Trigger
- Menstrual Pain
- Constipation Triggers
- Diarrhea Triggers
- Other Triggers
- IBS Prevention
IBS triggers and prevention facts
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a recurrent disease of the bowel. Treatment and management of symptoms include psychological support, dietary measures, management of food intake, and management of medications and/or psychological conditions.
- Foods and drinks that dehydrate the body can trigger constipation in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
- Fatty foods can trigger diarrhea in people with the condition, but specific food triggers of diarrhea and other symptoms may vary between individuals.
- Stress and anxiety can stimulate symptoms in many people with IBS.
- Drugs like antibiotics, antidepressants and/or medicines that contain sorbitol may trigger symptoms.
- In many women with IBS, menses and/or menstrual pain is related to the onset of symptoms.
- Other triggers for symptoms may include
- There are several ways to reduce or stop many of the causes that trigger symptoms; for example, eat a balanced diet, avoid food and drinks that dehydrate the body or may cause diarrhea, keep a journal to identify personal triggers, reduce stressors or causes of anxiety, and discuss medications you are taking that may be triggering your symptoms with your doctor.
- Consequently, for each individual, it is important to determine what foods, medications and/or conditions trigger symptoms. This short article is designed to be an introduction to treatment and management and provides common triggers of the condition. These are general descriptions of IBS triggers.
- IBS is not contagious from person to person and researchers are actively trying to determine the cause of this disease.
What is IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)?
- Abdominal cramping or pain
- Mucus in the stool
- Altered bowel habits (alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation)
Some health care professionals categorize and term IBS into one of four categories:
- IBS-D (predominant symptoms is diarrhea)
- IBS-C (predominant symptoms is constipation)
- IBS-M (mixed diarrhea and constipation)
- IBS-U (unclassified)
Not all health care professionals recognize these four categories.
Are stress and anxiety triggers for IBS?
Stress and anxiety may be triggers for IBS and the development of recurrent symptoms. Chronic stress experienced early in life (less than age 18) may increase the chances of developing the condition. Moreover, people diagnosed with IBS can have stress or anxiety trigger symptoms, such as:
Are menstrual pain and IBS related?
Some studies show that many women with IBS have worse symptoms during their menstrual periods. Although the mechanism is not clear, some gastrointestinal cells have receptors for estrogen and progesterone so that changes in the hormone levels during the menstrual cycle may trigger increasing IBS symptoms. Women are twice as likely to develop IBS as men.
- Scans Show Brain Changes in People With Long COVID
- Got GERD? Eat This Way to Help Avoid Symptoms
- 5 Women Contracted Syphilis Affecting the Eyes From the Same Asymptomatic Man
- Long COVID Now Common in U.S. Nursing Homes
- Breathing in Coal-Based Pollution Could Be Especially Deadly: Study
- More Health News »
What foods in the diet trigger constipation in IBS?
Any foods or fluids that tend to dehydrate a person are likely to trigger constipation in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Foods that may promote constipation should be avoided in an IBS diet and include:
- Dairy products such as milk and cheese (particularly those that contain lactose)
- Red meat
- Unripe bananas
- Items that contain caffeine if you are slightly dehydrated.
- Coffee, carbonated drinks and alcohol may lead to dehydration and constipation in IBS patients (and other people, too).
Foods that help prevent constipation in IBS
Foods that help prevent constipation and should be included in an IBS diet include:
- Various types of beans
- Whole grain breads like rye bread
- Pears and fruits like kiwi
- Vegetables that will help boost fiber intake
What foods in the diet trigger diarrhea in IBS?
- Several foods may play a role in developing diarrhea in people with IBS. Major categories of foods that may trigger IBS are those that contain fats (fatty meats, fatty dairy products, for example). Each individual is slightly different and may respond differently to food types. Consequently, dietitians and health care professionals who treat people with IBS often suggest that they keep a journal or diary to track those foods that cause diarrhea.
- Some foods that trigger diarrhea do so because they are ingested in large quantities; for example, a bite of a banana may not cause diarrhea, but eating a whole banana may trigger diarrhea in some people with IBS.
- Other foods that contain high levels of fructose, artificial sweeteners, high FODMAP foods, and fried foods may also trigger diarrhea.
- Broccoli, onions, cabbage and large helpings of beans may produce gas and increase the discomfort of diarrhea.
- Probiotics may help reduce the symptoms of diarrhea and gas in some individuals.
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter
What prescription or OTC drugs trigger IBS?
Some drugs can trigger IBS symptoms resulting in colonic spasms, constipation and/or diarrhea. Such drugs include antibiotics (especially those administered over a long period of time), tricyclic antidepressants, for example, amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep), nortriptyline (Pamelor), and doxepin, and medicines containing sorbitol (for example, some cough syrup preparations and common pain medicines like Advil gel capsules). Consequently, patients with the condition should check the ingredients, both active and inactive, for the presence of sorbitol as sorbitol is often listed as an "inactive" ingredient.
What are the other IBS triggers?
Other triggers of IBS are variable and differ from person to person. However, some other common triggers include:
- Lack of exercise
- Eating foods too quickly
- Eating while under some other stress such as driving or working
- Eating foods that are very hot or cold
- Chewing gum
Keep a journal and record the symptoms and the activities you are doing when symptoms develop. This can help you determine your personal triggers for any symptoms. Researchers also suggest that changes in hormone levels and/or other acute illnesses such as infectious diarrhea may also trigger symptoms.
Which specialties of doctors treat irritable bowel syndrome?
Although a patient's primary care physician may care for IBS patients, specialists in gastroenterology, immunology, psychiatry and dietary professionals may be consulted to help patients manage the condition.
How can I prevent IBS triggers?
There are many different ways to help prevent triggering IBS symptoms such as:
- Eat a balanced diet with a moderate amount of fiber.
- Avoid extremes of food temperatures (very hot or cold foods).
- Do not eat while experiencing anxiety or under stressful conditions (for example, while working or driving).
- Avoid foods and drinks that may cause dehydration or diarrhea.
- Keep a journal to help identify those foods that do or do not trigger symptoms.
- Try biofeedback, exercise, meditation, or yoga to reduce anxiety.
- Discuss medications you are taking that may be triggering symptoms with your doctor.
- Avoid those foods and drinks that are likely to increase or trigger symptoms.
- Avoid foods that increase intestinal gas (some legumes and vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts).
- Talk to your doctor or health care professional about taking probiotics.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)." <https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome>.
Wald, A. "Patient information: Irritable bowel syndrome (Beyond the Basics)." UpToDate. February 2019. <https://www.uptodate.com/contents/irritable-bowel-syndrome-beyond-the-basics>.
Top Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Triggers, Prevention Related Articles
Boost Digestive HealthUpset stomach? Some foods may be the culprits, and bad habits may be to blame. Treat your body right with these simple nutrition tips on how to deal with with diarrhea, gas, reflux, and more digestive ailments.
Constipation: Foods to Eat, Foods to Avoid QuizTake this quiz to find out what foods to eat, and what foods to avoid to prevent or relieve constipation.
DiarrheaDiarrhea is a change in the frequency and looseness of bowel movements. Symptoms associated with diarrhea are cramping, abdominal pain, and the sensation of rectal urgency. Causes of diarrhea include viral, bacterial, or parasite infection, gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and drugs. Absorbents and anti-motility medications are used to treat diarrhea.
Digestive Disorders: Worst Foods for DigestionDiscover which foods to avoid in order to prevent diarrhea and digestive problems. Find out which foods can trigger diarrhea and other digestive problems such as gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn and more.
Nutrition QuizEven if you think you're getting enough fruits and vegetables per day, how can you be sure? Take the Diet & Nutrition Quiz to learn more about eating right.
Stress-Reducing FoodsWhile there are many ways to cope with stress, one strategy is to eat stress-fighting foods. Find out which foods to eat as part of a stress management diet.
IBS SlideshowWhat is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Learn about symptoms, causes, and foods that trigger IBS. Get lifestyle tips for managing IBS through diet and with IBS medications.
Intestinal Gas and Gas PainIntestinal gas and painful bloating are common. Learn about what causes gas pain and how eliminating certain foods from your diet can help relieve symptoms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a GI disorder with symptoms of constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. IBS treatment includes medications, dietary changes, and lifestyle changes.
Low FODMAP Diet for IBS
FODMAPs are foods that contain sugar alcohols and short chain carbohydrates. The gut can't digest them very well. There are "low" FODMAP foods and "high" FODMAP foods. Foods high in FODMAPs lay in the gut and ferment, which causes symptoms of:
- Excessive gas
- Abdominal pain
Some people with digestive diseases and disorders, for example, IBS, microscopic colitis, IBD (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), and other functional bowel disorders often are placed on a low FODMAP diet to decrease the amount of high FODMAPs foods in the diet, which create uncomfortable symptoms.
StressStress is a normal part of life, but chronic or severe stress can be harmful to your health. Learn what happens in your body when you are stressed and how you can manage your response.
Top 12 Foods for Constipation ReliefConstipation is a common problem, and almost everyone has been constipated at one time or another. There are foods that can help prevent constipation and also provide relief, for example, kiwi, prunes, beans (your choice of type), berries, certain seeds, potatoes, and popcorn.
15 Foods That Cause ConstipationConstipation or the decrease in frequency and/or difficulty in passing stools (bowel movements) can be caused by a variety of problems. Check out these top 15 foods to avoid because they cause constipation. Some foods to avoid include, white rice and bread, caffeine, bananas, alcohol, processed foods, and frozen dinners.
Tummy Trouble QuizTummy Troubles? Get a better idea of what's causing the nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, pain, and other gastrointestinal discomforts and problems. Take the Tummy Troubles Quiz!
What Is an Ileoanal Anastomosis (J-Pouch) Surgery?An ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (J-pouch) is a surgical procedure to restore the stomach and bowel (gastrointestinal) continuity after the surgical removal of the large bowel (the colon and rectum). It is performed under the following conditions: inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or, rarely, Crohn’s disease), certain cancers of the large bowel, disorders of excessive colonic polyps, and toxic megacolon.
What Is Laparoscopic Left Colectomy/Hemicolectomy?A colectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing a segment of the colon. During a colectomy, a surgeon removes a damaged section of the intestine and reattaches the healthy parts of the colon. Laparoscopic colectomy is used to treat and prevent diseases and conditions that affect the colon, such as bleeding, bowel obstruction, colon cancer, and more.
Why Am I So Gassy and Bloated?Bloating is a feeling that your abdomen is distended or larger than normal, but it does not necessarily mean that it is. Gas (flatulence) also can be a problem if you are bloated. Common, less serious causes of bloating are eating too fast, too much, or too many fatty foods; swallowing air; pregnancy; and menstruation. Cancer and IBD (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) are examples of the more serious causes of bloating. Examples of foods and drinks that cause bloating are high-fiber foods if you don't eat them regularly; eventually the bloating and gassiness will resolve if you eat them on a regular basis; fatty greasy foods, dairy products (for example, cheese, ice cream, milk, and yogurt); foods high in salt (for example, processed, frozen, and canned foods), and artificial sweeteners. Some doctors and other health care professionals recommend natural remedies like chamomile or peppermint tea or pumpkin to relieve bloating. Examples of OTC medicine (medicine available without a prescription) and other products that may relieve bloating and gassiness are, Gas-X, Beano, Pepto Bismol, Metamucil, probiotics, and Ex-Lax for constipation associated with bloating. If you have persistent or severe gas and bloating, and if you have any of these symptoms see a doctor or other health care professional, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, bloody diarrhea, fever, or if you think you are or may be pregnant.