Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects how the large intestine works. It's thought to affect up to 20 percent of the general population in the UK. Abdominal pain, cramps and bloating are common symptoms. You may also experience constipation or diarrhoea, or alternate between these two symptoms.
IBS can cause considerable discomfort to those who suffer from it, so it's useful to know which factors can trigger it.
What are the causes of IBS?
There are no known causes of IBS, although it can sometimes develop after a bout of gastroenteritis (a stomach infection that causes vomiting and diarrhoea).
There are known factors that seem to aggravate symptoms of IBS if you already suffer from it.
What are the triggers of IBS?
You might have noticed that certain foods increase your IBS symptoms. When food passes through the intestines, bacteria inside the bowels help to digest it and release gas. The production of gas may be increased in those who suffer from IBS, giving rise to bloating, cramps and diarrhoea.
Some examples of trigger foods are listed below:
• Bread and pasta, which contain wheat
• Vegetables such as cabbage, artichokes, asparagus and brussel sprouts
• Pulses like lentils, chickpeas and most beans
• Dairy products, which include milk, yoghurt, cheese and ice cream
• Foods and drinks containing artificial sweeteners
• Alcohol, especially beers which are made of fermented grains
• Processed foods
• Sugary foods and drinks
• Coffee and tea, which should be limited to a maximum of three cups a day
It may be beneficial to exclude foods which you suspect are IBS triggers for you from your diet, and see if this improves your symptoms. Everyone has different IBS triggers, and a food diary may help identify which foods (if any) cause problems for you.
Everyday stress can be another significant trigger of IBS symptoms. You may find that if you manage to curb your stress levels suitably, your symptoms will decrease. While it's not always easy to reduce stress in today's busy world, here are some suggestions for ways to manage your stress:
• Find some time for yourself, even if it's only a few minutes each day
• Meet with a friend
• Go for walks to get some fresh air
• Practise mindfulness exercises or meditation
• Take up a new hobby or revisit an old one
• Exercise regularly
It may be useful to keep a diary of symptoms to see if there is a pattern. This could help you to identify possible triggers and learn what to avoid.
• Avoid IBS trigger foods, and drink at least eight cups of water a day
• Get regular exercise and work to reduce your stress levels
• Keep a diary recording your symptoms to help you identify potential triggers
• Speak to your doctor or pharmacist to find about more about medicine which may be suitable for you. If your symptoms worsen or aren't improving, you should return to your doctor