Health And Lifestyle For The Over 50s

Controlling Triggers To Help Ease Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS Woman

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a chronic and debilitating disorder of the gastrointestinal tract and despite the fact that it affects up to a third of the UK population at some time, it remains something of a mystery. Many of our followers suffer from irritable bowel syndrome so we would like to raise awareness and highlight the condition which causes great distress and which non- sufferers often fail to understand.

What are the Symptoms of IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome affects people in different ways but the common symptoms are:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Pain and cramping in the stomach
  • Excess wind
  • Passing mucus when having a poo
  • A feeling that you haven’t emptied your bowels properly after going to the toilet


Occasionally, sufferers will experience other symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Backache
  • Bladder problems and urinary incontinence
  • Pain during intercourse


These symptoms can cause great embarrassment to patients and there is no cure.

It is also important to be aware that these symptoms are also related to other medical conditions. If you experience any of them, it’s worth booking an appointment with your GP to get a proper diagnosis.

It is widely recognised that IBS can be triggered by certain foods or lifestyle choices.

Triggers and effects vary from person to person which makes treating the condition difficult. But there are steps that can be taken to help avoid triggers and prevent symptom flare-ups.

This list may help you identify personal triggers in your IBS and provide you with prevention strategies to ease your suffering:

1. Diet triggers for IBS constipation

  • Refined foods such as biscuits and crisps
  • Refined bread and cereals
  • High protein diets
  • Drinks such as alcohol, coffee and fizzy drinks

Strategies to help prevent symptom flare-ups:

  • Gradually increase your daily intake of fibre. Include whole grain bread and cereals, fruit, vegetables and beans. But take care as some people with IBS may find that increasing fibre too rapidly makes their condition worse.
  • Drink eight glasses of plain water each day.
  • Try ground flaxseed or linseed, this can be sprinkled on your cereal or salads.

2. Diet triggers for IBS diarrhoea

  • Too much fibre, especially insoluble fibre found in the skins of fruit and vegetables
  • Fried and fatty foods
  • Large meals
  • Dairy products and foods
  • Foods containing wheat as some people may have a negative reaction to gluten
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Food and drinks containing chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, fructose or the sugar substitute sorbitol

Strategies to help prevent symptom flare-ups:

IBS Oats & fruit

  • Eat a moderate amount of soluble fibre. It adds bulk to your bowel motions and can help prevent spasms. Good sources are wholemeal breads, oats, barley, brown rice and pasta, the flesh of fruit rather than the whole fruit, and dried fruits.
  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of plain water each day but drink the water an hour before or after, rather than with your meals.
  • Reduce or avoid foods like broccoli, cabbage and onions as these can often make diarrhoea or bloating worse.
  • Try to avoid foods with extreme temperatures, such as ice-cold water and hot soup, in the same meal.
  • If you suspect you may have a wheat intolerance or allergy, consult your GP
  • Some people with IBS have symptoms similar to lactose intolerance with excess wind. Your symptoms may be reduced if you try a lactose free diet and avoid foods which can produce excess wind such as beans, wheat germ, Brussels sprouts, raisins and celery.

3. Stress and anxiety triggers for IBS

  • Problems at work
  • Commuting
  • Relationship problems
  • Financial problems
  • A sense that things are out of your control


IBS Stress

Strategies to help prevent symptom flare-ups:

  • Talk to people such a family and friends or work colleagues about your IBS. This may prevent any misunderstandings when your symptoms flare up and you are not able to meet expectations. It may also provide support and encouragement to help ease your anxiety.
  • Practise healthy living by eating a well-balanced diet which takes account of your particular food triggers. Take regular exercise and get enough sleep.
  • Do something which you enjoy such as listening to music, reading a book, going shopping or going for a walk.
  • Try behaviour therapy which will help you learn to become calm with the help of relaxation techniques. These could include relaxation therapy, yoga, hypnotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and psychotherapy.
  • Plan ahead to ease your worries if your symptoms flare-up. Get up earlier if you know your IBS makes you late for work; if you are driving, plan your route so you know the location of toilets; if you are eating out, try to look at the menu beforehand so that you can find dishes which agree with you; at social events such as the theatre, choose aisle seats in case you need to visit the toilet.

4. Medicines that can trigger IBS

  • Antibiotics, especially after prolonged use
  • Antidepressants
  • Medicines containing sorbitol such as cough syrup

Strategies to help prevent symptom flare-ups:

  • Talk to your GP about changing to a medicine that won’t worsen your symptoms.
  • Older antidepressants called tricyclic antidepressants can cause constipation. One type of newer antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can cause diarrhoea. See if your GP can prescribe you a different antidepressant which does not have an adverse effect on your symptoms.

5. Menstrual triggers for IBS

  • Studies show that some women have worse symptoms of IBS during their periods. Your GP may recommend certain strategies to ease your pain and discomfort.

Strategies to help prevent symptom flare-ups:

  • Oral contraceptives will help regulate your periods but some can have side effects. Talk to your GP about finding a pill which works for you without causing side effects.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) medicines prescribed for PMDD which is a severe form of PMS. These are drugs which adjust levels of serotonin, a brain chemical thought to be out of balance during certain phases of a woman’s cycle.

6. Other triggers

  • Eating while working or driving
  • Eating too quickly
  • Lack of exercise
  • Chewing gum

Strategies to help prevent symptom flare-ups:

  • Take time out from other activities while you are eating as they may cause you to swallow more air, eat more quickly and feel bloated.
  • Constipation can be caused by a lack of exercise so try to get at least 30 minutes exercise each day. It can be as simple as taking a walk as this will help ease tension and thereby, help your bowels.


If you would like more help and advice try clicking on this link to the IBS Network Charity’s website.

For more details of foods which may ease your symptoms, please follow the link to our earlier article:

Foods to Ease Your Irritable Syndrome (IBS)

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