How to Calm an IBS Flare Up

Causes of an IBS Flare Up

The most common causes of an IBS flare up are:

  • High FODMAP foods and drinks.
  • Fatty and fried foods.
  • Large meals (even if low FODMAPS).
  • Anxiety, stress.
  • Pain, physical stress, major trauma, and fever.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Gut bugs (gastroenteritis).
  • Some medications such as antibiotics.
  • Fluctuations in female sex hormones.

Symptoms of an IBS Flare Up

An IBS flare-up means that you are experiencing a sudden increase in IBS symptoms over a period of time. Signs of an IBS flare-up may differ from person to person, though they can commonly include:

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Swelling or bloating of the abdomen 
  • Passing excessive gas 
  • A feeling that the bowels are not empty after passing stools
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Some people also experience some less common symptoms, such as:

  • Headache 
  • Joint or muscle pain 
  • Fatigue 
  • Frequent urination 
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression 

Management of an IBS Flare Up

A range of strategies may help manage a flare-up. Many approaches may also be used to prevent or reduce the chance of an episode of IBS.

Avoid High FODMAP Diets

Foods that are high in ‘FODMAPS’ (small carbohydrate molecules that cause bacteria in the gut to release gas) may cause IBS symptoms. A diet low in FODMAPs reduces symptoms of IBS in most people.

To calm an IBS flare-up, avoid high-FODMAP foods such as: 

  • Fructans (a fructose molecule that stores carbohydrates): such as garlic, onion, wheat, rye, and broccoli 
  • Oligosaccharides (a type of carbohydrate): such as chickpeas, lentils, tofu, and beans 
  • Lactose and dairy: Such as cow’s milk, yogurt, and ice-cream 
  • Fructose (fruit sugar): such as apples, mangoes, watermelon, and honey 
  • Polyols (naturally occurring sugar alcohols): such as nectarines, peaches, plums, cauliflower, and mushrooms

Instead, choose low-FODMAP options that include: 

Reduce Stress

Stress can worsen symptoms of a flare-up because of the gut-brain connection (literally a chemical connection between your gut and brain). Therefore, relaxation techniques that work for the mind can also help calm the gut.

Try Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil is an herbal supplement that has been used as a natural remedy for centuries. It has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of IBS and is well supported by evidence from clinical studies.

The active ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol, which has a cooling effect. Menthol dulls pain receptors and relaxes the muscles of the colon. Peppermint oil can help reduce pain, bloating, and constipation and has even been shown to be more effective than antispasmodics in relieving overall symptoms of IBS.

Reduce Caffeine Intake

Coffee and other sources of caffeine may worsen symptoms of IBS during a flare-up. Even without IBS, caffeine is known to have a laxative effect on the body with diarrhea being a common side-effect of overconsumption. One study showed coffee-drinkers were 50% more likely to develop IBS than those who did not drink coffee.

Eat More Fiber

Incorporating more fibre into your diet is a great way to avoid IBS flare-ups. Try more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which are all low in fat and high in other nutrients. Do this gradually to find the right amount for you, as consuming too much fiber can bring on cramping, constipation, bloating, and dehydration.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Water is best to keep your flare-ups at bay, plus it is healthier for you overall. Some beverages to steer clear of include alcohol, coffee, tea, and soda. Carbonated beverages generally cause gas, while alcohol and caffeinated drinks can cause diarrhea.


Increasing your levels of exercise may provide relief from an IBS episode. Exercise helps relieve your symptoms as it can stimulate normal contractions of the intestines while also reducing stress.


While heeding all these tips may not bring complete relief, they are a start. Keep them in mind as you go about your day. Experiment with different techniques to ease stress and improve your diet, and you will find that you will get relief from your IBS symptoms. Remember, YOU are in control of your IBS!

- Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola MD PhD, founder, Casa de Sante 

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