What to Do About Loose Stools From IBS

Loose stools are a common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), particularly diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D). Dietary changes, stress management, and fiber supplements help some people with IBS manage loose stools. 

This article explains the cause of diarrhea in people with IBS, as well as how to firm up loose stools with diet, supplements, and stress reduction.

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When to Seek Medical Care

If you have loose stools lasting longer than two weeks, you need to seek medical care—especially if you have other symptoms like fever, blood or pus in your stool, and/or severe abdominal pain. It is important to figure out the cause and get treatment to avoid health complications of diarrhea like dehydration.

Learn About How Digestion Works

IBS symptoms stem from trouble with your digestive system. Understanding the different steps in the digestion process can help clarify why diarrhea can be a symptom of IBS.

The food you eat is broken down in your mouth and stomach first. Next, it moves to your small intestine where nutrients get absorbed. The small intestine sends any undigested fiber and water to your large intestine where the water is drawn out to form the stool. What’s left is what makes up a bowel movement. 

For reasons that are not yet clear, people with IBS seem to have a change in the speed and appearance of their bowel movements. Loose stools in IBS can have a number of causes, such as:

  • Bowel movements that are too fast
  • Intestines making (secreting) too much liquid
  • Food components draw too much water into the stool

If you have diarrhea from IBS, here are a few tips for managing your symptoms.

Avoid Triggering Foods

spoonful of cottage cheese

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These foods have a reputation for softening stool and can make diarrhea more likely (even in people who don’t have IBS): 

  • Sugar-free foods, candies, and chewing gums that have artificial sweeteners that end in "-ol" in the ingredients list
  • Caffeine-containing drinks like coffee, soda, and tea

Fortunately, none of these foods are essential for your health and you can cut them out of your diet without missing out on any key nutrients.

Eat an "Easy" Diet (But Only Temporarily)

Eating easy-to-digest foods while you have diarrhea can help give your digestion a break.

You may have grown up hearing about the “BRAT diet” for diarrhea, which refers to eating bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast when you have loose stools. The idea is that since these foods are “binding” (and can even be constipating) they can help firm up loose stools. 

If you have mixed-type IBS (diarrhea alternating with constipation), a lot of the foods included in a bland diet (e.g., white bread, white rice) might be ones you'd want to avoid when you're constipated.

Evidence for using the BRAT diet mostly comes from people’s experiences, not research studies. While it might be helpful, there have not been any high-quality studies proving that it works.

You might feel better eating a bland diet if you have mild diarrhea or are recovering from a brief illness or surgery, but following a limited diet like the BRAT diet is not meant to manage long-term symptoms. While these foods can be easy to digest, they lack nutrition.

Watch Your Fruit Intake

Fruits are a good source of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but they also contain a type of natural sugar called fructose that can be hard on the gut.

The body has a limited ability to absorb large amounts of fructose. Eating a lot of fruit at once can contribute to loose stools because excess fructose makes its way into the large intestine, where it may absorb too much water.

Eating too much of any fruit can cause symptoms, but some fruits have a higher fructose content than others. You may want to avoid these high-fructose foods (or at least limit how much you eat) if you have IBS:

  • Apples
  • Dried fruit (e.g., raisins, dates, figs, prunes)
  • Grapes
  • Bananas (ripe)
  • Kiwi
  • Cherries
  • Lychee
  • Jackfruit
  • Mango
  • Pears
  • Papaya
  • Watermelon
  • Fruit juices (e.g., apple, grape, cranberry cocktail)

Fructose can also be found in non-fruit foods and drinks, especially sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup (which can be in anything from cereal, bread, crackers, and granola bars to condiments like pasta sauce and ketchup), honey, and agave. Soda, sweet tea, and some wines can also have a high fructose content.

For some people, following a diet that's low in fructose may improve their IBS symptoms. Examples of lower fructose fruits include:

  • Apricots
  • Avocado
  • Bananas (firm)
  • Berries (e.g., blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)
  • Melon (e.g. honeydew, cantaloupe)
  • Oranges, lemons, limes
  • Nectarines
  • Clementines
  • Cranberries
  • Tangerines
  • Grapefruit
  • Pineapple
  • Peach
  • Passionfruit

Be Mindful About Magnesium

Magnesium is an important nutrient that your body needs but it can act as a laxative. In fact, it is a main ingredient in most preps for colonoscopies.

Check any over-the-counter (OTC) products you take regularly to see if they have magnesium in them. Examples of common products that have magnesium as an ingredient include: 

  • Antacids used to relieve heartburn and indigestion
  • Multivitamins
  • Other vitamin formulations

Eat Probiotic-Rich Foods

Probiotics are types of bacteria thought to be beneficial for health, especially digestion. Studies have shown that probiotics may promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Researchers think it's possible that the effect of the bacteria in the intestines may help some people with IBS symptoms.

Having the right balance of gut bacteria can reduce gas and help food move better through your digestive tract. Both of these effects can slow the speed of intestinal contractions that ​contribute to loose stools.

You can increase your intake of probiotics naturally by adding these foods to your diet:

  • High-fiber foods
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fermented foods (e.g., yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, and kombucha)

What About Probiotic Supplements?

Probiotic supplements are not recommended by the American Gastroenterology Association (AGA) because there is not enough research evidence that they are helpful for conditions like IBS.

If you want to try taking an OTC probiotic supplement, ask your provider for recommendations. However, keep in mind that supplements can be expensive, so you'll want to find one that you can afford to buy consistently.

Add a Fiber Supplement

Fiber supplements or bulk laxatives are usually recommended for constipation, but they can also help with IBS-related loose stools.

Soluble fiber supplements like psyllium and calcium polycarbophil absorb water, which helps slow digestion. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stools.

Here are some options you can find at the pharmacy or grocery store:​

  • Fiberall, Genfiber, Konsyl, Metamucil (psyllium)
  • Fibercon, Equalactin (calcium polycarbophil)
  • Citrucel (methylcellulose)

Manage Stress

The body's natural stress response can speed up intestinal movement. If you can reduce your stress, your body might be able to hold onto stool longer. If it has a little more time in your GI tract, stool can firm up as the water is drawn out.

Whenever possible, try to reduce the amount of stress in your life. When this is not possible, you might find it helpful to engage in stress-reducing activities like:

  • Meditation
  • Relaxation exercises
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga

If you're having a hard time managing stress and feel overwhelmed, tell your provider. It might be helpful to talk with a mental health professional.

Medical Conditions Other Than IBS That Cause Loose Stools

There are many other causes of loose stools. If you haven't been diagnosed with IBS, talk to a healthcare provider. They will ask you some questions to figure out what could be causing you to have diarrhea, such as:

  • Have there been any recent changes in the way you eat?
  • Are you on a new medication?
  • Has your water source changed? A new source of water may expose you to different types of bacteria.
  • Have you recently traveled?
  • Have you recently experienced food poisoning or some other intestinal illness?
  • Has your stress level been higher than usual?

Health Conditions With Loose Stools as a Symptom

Loose stools can be a symptom of many health conditions. Some of the common conditions that your provider will consider if you have diarrhea are:

Ask Your Provider About Medications

Some people with IBS-D use OTC or prescription medications that stop diarrhea. If addressing common triggers for loose stools and remedies to harden your stool haven’t helped, you might want to consider these treatments.

Examples of OTC medications used for loose stools in IBS and other conditions include:

Examples of prescription medications for diarrhea include:

Other treatments for diarrhea include:

When to Get Medical Care for Loose Stools

Loose stools can have many causes. Diarrhea can be a symptom of acute, short-lived illnesses or long-term, chronic illnesses.

While many causes of loose stools are not serious, you should know when to call your provider or seek medical care if you're having diarrhea.

If you are having loose stools and any of the following concerning symptoms, you need to see a provider right away:

  • Blood or pus in the stool
  • Dehydration
  • Fever that is higher than 102 or lasts longer than three days
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Stool that is black or tarry
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you have IBS and have had diarrhea for more than two weeks, it's important to tell your provider. You may need a different strategy to manage loose stools from IBS, or it may not be IBS that's causing your symptoms.


Loose stools are a common IBS symptom. Some people with IBS find that cutting out caffeine, being mindful of their fruit intake, avoiding OTC products that contain magnesium, eating probiotic-rich foods, and trying out fiber supplements can help with loose stools. 

It’s important to talk to your provider if you are having diarrhea often and nothing you've tried has helped. If you have IBS, talk to your provider about your treatment. If you don’t have a diagnosis but think your symptoms could be IBS, your provider can help determine if it (or something else) is the cause of your loose stools.

19 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 Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.