Top Ways to Make Your IBS Flare Up

Keeping irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) under control can feel like a full-time job. To reduce your IBS symptoms, you may need to make extensive lifestyle changes, including altering your diet to avoid trigger foods and practicing stress-relief techniques. These changes can help you avoid potential pitfalls and may prevent flare-ups of IBS that cause diarrhea or constipation.

You might not know exactly what worsens your IBS, especially in the beginning when you're still figuring out your treatment plan. This article will take you through some of the worst offenders.


Hipster is smoking a cigarette in a sidewalk cafe
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Smoking cigarettes affects the entire body, not only the lungs and respiratory system. When smoke is inhaled into the body, it also enters the stomach and intestines. Tobacco is a known irritant to the digestive tract that can cause bloating, cramping, gas, and stomach rumbling. This, of course, would not help IBS symptoms.

Not Drinking Enough Water

Water jug and glass on a wooden outdoor table
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If a body only gets coffee and diet soda all day, we can't expect the digestive tract to work as well as it could. Water is essential to the good health of the entire body. Good water drinking habits will not only be helpful in preventing constipation, but also in replacing fluids lost from diarrhea. 

Not Exercising

Fitness Equipment
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There is something that people can do in just 30 minutes a day that improves their overall health, but most people don't do it—exercise.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting 150 minutes of exercise per week, which equals 30 minutes most days of the week. It doesn't have to be a continuous 30 minutes; it can be three episodes of 10 minutes or two episodes of 15. Exercise helps with all kinds of issues, including stress, but may also help to relieve constipation.

Ignoring Stress

Close-up of tired thoughtful businesswoman with arms crossed at office
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Stress does not cause IBS, but it will worsen symptoms. Everyone has stress of some kind—the important thing is how you react to that stress. It helps to turn stress into something positive.

Use stress to fuel creativity and spur positive action. Don't allow stress to fester. Once stress takes hold, it starts affecting your digestive health. Managing stress is vital to coping with IBS.

Eating Large Meals

Cheeseburger with French Fries
Burcu Atalay Tankut / Getty Images

We all love to eat, but eating three large meals a day is not the best strategy for optimal digestive health. Instead, try eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day.

People with IBS may have a heavy feeling after eating large meals, and eating smaller ones can help avoid that. In addition, the body will receive a steady supply of fuel all day long, which helps you avoid dips in your energy levels.

Skipping Sleep

young man Pulling an all nighter at his desk
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Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night for optimal health. It's not easy to get a good night's sleep every night, but it is vital to avoiding IBS flare-ups.

Some people have trouble getting or staying asleep. Try practicing better sleep hygiene to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. However, serious sleep problems, like chronic insomnia, should be discussed with your physician.

Eating Trigger Foods

Baskets of Onion Rings, Curly Fries and Cheese Sticks
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Trigger foods vary from person to person, but common ones include fatty foods, fried foods, carbonated beverages, and insoluble fiber. Learning which trigger foods contribute to your IBS takes time and energy, but once you identify them, you can avoid them. Avoiding trigger foods may help cut down on flare-ups.

Drinking Alcoholic Beverages

Close-Up Of Alcohol In Shot Glasses Arranged On Wooden Table
Anton Eine / EyeEm / Getty Images

Cutting back on alcohol can be difficult, especially for those who like to socialize. But alcohol disrupts the gastrointestinal tract, which may be particularly problematic for people with IBS.

Beer tends to cause gas, and mixed drinks often contain other triggers like fruit juices and caffeinated beverages. In some cases, it might be better to avoid drinking in order to prevent flare-ups.

Eating Processed Foods

row of hot dogs on a grill
Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

Processed foods often contain additives such as sugar or fat substitutes. Many of these artificial flavorings are known to be gastrointestinal irritants. Even people who do not have a diagnosed digestive condition may experience gas, diarrhea, bloating, and pain after eating food additives.

Instead, look for fresh, whole foods that contain the fewest amount of ingredients.

Failing to Seek Help

Women friends drinking coffee and talking at cafe table

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Help can come from friends, family, coworkers, or your healthcare team. Don't be afraid to accept help and good advice when it is offered from a trusted source.

Look for professionals who can help you stick to an IBS-friendly diet and help teach you stress-reduction techniques.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.