6 Effective Strategies for Handling an IBS Attack

Ways to Gain Control Over Your IBS Symptoms

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As anyone living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) knows, an IBS attack can be both physically and emotionally draining. Beyond the often-crippling pain and discomfort, people with IBS often find themselves panicking to find a bathroom or worrying that they may be caught out in public totally unprepared.

Luckily, there are things that you can do to help alleviate the symptoms of an attack (and to even help avoid them in the future).

IBS attack symptom relief
Verywell / Jessica Olah

Use Heat to Treat Spasms

During an IBS attack, it helps to apply heat to the abdomen with either an electric heating pad or a hot water bottle. The gentle heat not only feels nice, but it also helps stimulate the blood flow and relax the smooth muscles of the colon, reducing spasms and cramps.

Be sure to place a towel or piece of clothing between you and the heat source so that you don't get burned.

Sip IBS-Friendly Teas

Sipping a nice cup of IBS-friendly tea can be soothing and further help alleviate painful spasms and cramps. IBS-friendly teas are not fermented and do not contain any of the ingredients that can trigger or inflame IBS symptoms. IBS-friendly teas include peppermint, black tea, white tea, and green tea. Peppermint is suggested as a possible treatment for IBS.

By contrast, teas you may think are safe (like chamomile, chai, dandelion, and certain herbal teas) can become problematic if you let them steep for a long time. If you choose to drink these teas, let them sit for just a minute or two for a weak steep.

Breathe Deeply and Relax

Your body's natural stress response can have a dramatic effect on your IBS, triggering the release of stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) that can increase IBS symptoms. There are several ways you can deal with this:

  • Breathing deeply not only helps calm the nerves, it sends powerful messages to the brain, telling it that everything is okay and that there is no need for an emergency response.
  • Pranayama breathing, a yoga practice in which you control the flow and pace of your breathing, is especially useful. It is often incorporated into certain meditation practices.
  • Guided imagery is another relaxation technique in which you create mental images to stimulate calm feelings and, by doing so, gently shift your thoughts from the areas of physical discomfort.

Keep a Symptom Diary

Keeping track of your symptoms can help you identify patterns in your IBS attacks whether they be the foods you eat, activities you engage in, or routines that cause stress (such as preparing for a meeting or getting the kids ready for school).

Knowing, for example, that you are more likely to experience attacks in the morning can help plan your day. By identifying and recording these patterns, you can remove many of the "what ifs" from your life and participate in activities more confidently.


Fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) are a group of carbohydrates found in everyday foods that contribute to the symptoms of IBS. These carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the intestine and can be acted upon by intestinal bacteria, leading to increased gas, bloating, pain, and watery stools.

By focusing on foods that are low in FODMAPs, you can decrease your gastrointestinal sensitivity and provide yourself much-needed relief after an IBS attack.

You shouldn't limit yourself to low-FODMAP foods for long periods of time.

Be aware that restricting your diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies that not only damage your health but can paradoxically increase your IBS symptoms. Instead, focus on moderation and eat smaller meals to avoid overtaxing your digestive system.

Work With Your Doctor

There is no need to suffer in silence. By working with a doctor, you can better pinpoint the peculiarities of your IBS and find strategies—combining lifestyles, stress relief, and medications—that may offer better and more sustainable control of your IBS symptoms.

There is an ever-widening range of medications able to treat both diarrhea-predominant IBS and constipation-predominant IBS. These include antispasmodics to alleviate cramping, bile acid binders to reduce diarrhea, and osmotic laxatives to relieve constipation.

Newer-generation drugs like Viberzi (eluxadoline) and Xifaxan (rifaximin) are specially designed to treat IBS and offer greater symptom control than ever before.

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