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What Triggers IBS?

Tuesday 6 July 2021
4 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. Coping with IBS Symptoms

II. Diet Choices

III. Stress

IV. Medications

V. Menstruation

Coping with IBS Symptoms

Living with irritable bowel syndrome can be a bothersome condition if you cannot identify your triggers. Unlike other gastrointestinal disorders, IBS will not affect the anatomy of the bowel but can cause life-long symptoms. To avoid severe symptoms, it is essential to take the proper steps to keep your symptoms under control. Most commonly, irritable bowel syndrome may cause:

  • Changes in your bowel movement habits
  • Changes in bowel movement appearance
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping or bloating

These symptoms may occur on and off throughout your life, and you will likely alternate between constipation and diarrhea symptoms. If you experience severe symptoms like weight loss, unexplained vomiting, or difficulty swallowing, you should seek the help of your doctor. They will likely prescribe Linzess IBS medication, lubiprostone (amitza), or Xifaxan antibiotic. If you can successfully eliminate IBS triggers from your life and take these medications, your symptoms will likely improve. Read on to learn more about the most common irritants for irritable bowel syndrome. [1] 

a red-tiled restroom

Diet Choices

Naturally, diet choices directly affect the gastrointestinal system. IBS has three main types: IBS with constipation (IBS-C), IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), and mixed IBS. Mixed IBS is when you experience both constipation and diarrhea. Once your doctor determines the type you are experiencing, they will recommend cutting out the following:

Highly refined foods: If you have IBS-C, you should limit foods that lack important nutrients. These foods may taste good, but the absence of fiber, vitamins, and minerals can irritate your bowel. You may want to avoid white bread, white rice, chips, cookies, and pastries to improve symptoms. [2]

Insoluble fiber: Insoluble fiber is difficult for the stomach to digest. This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and is left intact as food moves through the GI tract. Examples of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, beans, potatoes, cauliflower, and whole wheat flour. [3]

Fatty foods: Research has found that fatty foods are a major exacerbating factor for IBS. Fat is difficult for the bowel to digest, which can lead to IBS symptoms. It would help if you avoided cream, cheese, vegetable oil, and whipped toppings. [4]


Researchers are not 100 percent sure why stress and anxiety irritate IBS, but they have found they often occur together. Psychologists from the State University of New York at Albany found that 60 percent of IBS patients meet the criteria of one or more psychiatric disorders. The most common one is typically generalized anxiety disorder, and depression is present in 20 percent of IBS patients. 

a woman looking distressed, sitting on the ground

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but psychological problems and emotional troubles may upset the digestive system. If you suffer from chronic stress related to health, money, or your career, you may experience muscle aches, insomnia, dizziness, or irritability. These symptoms may expand to the stomach and create IBS symptoms. If stress is affecting your stomach, talk to your doctor. [5]


Along with stress and diet choices, some medications may increase the likelihood of IBS symptoms. If you are newly diagnosed with IBS, you should tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking. Prescription medications, as well as over-the-counter drugs, may exacerbate IBS. You may want to avoid the following medications if you are taking rifaximin for IBS or linaclotide:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Medications containing sorbitol (found in some cough syrups and Advil gel capsules)
  • Long-term antibiotics [6] 


Many women report that IBS symptoms may get worse during their period. IBS symptoms may change during their menstrual cycle, and half of the women with IBS report that their bowel symptoms worsen during this time. Some studies show that the fluctuation of sex hormones can affect the GI tract. Women may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Backache
  • Greater sensitivity to food

an open sanitary pad surrounded by unopened pads

If your symptoms increase in severity during your period, it is important to maintain your treatment plan and ask your doctor if you can take any supplemental medications. These may include:

  • Antidiarrheals
  • Fiber supplements
  • Laxatives
  • Pain relievers [7]

Living with IBS can be difficult if you are unaware of your triggers. All of the above triggers may irritate IBS patients at one time or another, so you may want to cut them out to see if your condition improves.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.