10 Surprising Triggers of IBS Symptoms You Never Knew About

Mar 04, 2023

If you're one of the millions of people living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you know that symptoms like bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation can be both unpredictable and overwhelming. While certain triggers such as stress and certain foods are widely known, there are many other triggers that you may not be aware of.

Cracking the code to reducing your symptoms can be challenging, but it's worth the effort. Skipping meals or feeling guilty about canceling plans due to IBS can be discouraging, but know there's hope that things can get better. Here are 10 surprising triggers of IBS symptoms that you should know about and some alternative approaches to explore:

1. Trauma:

Trauma can have a significant impact on the development of IBS symptoms. Studies have found that individuals who have experienced trauma, particularly in early life, are more likely to develop IBS later in life. Trauma can also trigger symptoms in those who already have IBS, with stress and anxiety being major contributors to symptom flares. This is because trauma can affect the body's stress response system, leading to dysregulation and increased sensitivity in the gut. Things like somatic healing, hypnotherapy, EMDR, therapy, and other treatments aimed at addressing the emotional and psychological impact of trauma can be crucial in managing IBS symptoms.

2. Gut Infections:

Untreated gut infections like giardiasis and bacterial overgrowth can lead to chronic IBS symptoms by disrupting the balance of bacteria in your gut and causing inflammation.

3. Artificial Sweeteners:

While artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin are marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar, they can cause bloating, gas, and other IBS symptoms. These sweeteners can also negatively affect gut bacteria, leading to digestive issues.

Tip: Avoid products that contain artificial sweeteners, and instead, use natural sweeteners like honey, stevia, or maple syrup.

4. Antibiotics:

Antibiotics are essential in treating bacterial infections, but they can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut, leading to digestive issues and an increased risk of developing IBS. Taking probiotic supplements and eating fermented foods can help restore the healthy bacteria in your gut. 

According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, people who took antibiotics had a 1.6-fold increased risk of developing IBS compared to those who didn't take antibiotics.  

5. Menstrual Cycle:

Many women with IBS report that their symptoms worsen during their menstrual cycle. This is due to hormonal changes that affect gut motility and sensitivity.

Tip: Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation to reduce stress during your menstrual cycle.

 6. Lack of Sleep:

Poor sleep habits can lead to stress and anxiety, which can worsen IBS symptoms. A lack of sleep can also disrupt the gut-brain axis, affecting gut motility and sensitivity.  A study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that sleep disturbances were significantly associated with IBS symptoms.

Tip: Prioritize getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night and practice good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding electronics before bedtime and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.

7. Lack of Physical Activity:

Regular exercise and physical activity can improve digestion, reduce stress, and promote better gut health, while a sedentary lifestyle can make symptoms worse. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy, such as walking, yoga, or strength training, and make it a part of your routine.

8. Medications:

Certain medications, such as pain relievers, antidepressants, NSAIDs, and PPIs, can irritate the gut lining and worsen IBS symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider about alternatives if you experience worsening of symptoms while taking these medications.

9. Travel:

Travel can be exciting, but it can also trigger IBS symptoms due to changes in routine, time zone shifts, and alterations in diet. Plan ahead and pack IBS-friendly snacks, research restaurants and food options at your destination, and schedule time for self-care and relaxation to manage any added stress.

10. Emotional Stress:

Stress can have a significant impact on IBS symptoms by altering gut motility and increasing inflammation. Manage stress through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, or gut-directed hypnotherapy.

Living with IBS can be challenging, but with the right tools and strategies, it's possible to manage your symptoms.  If you'd like to learn how you can address your IBS symptoms in a more holistic way, getting to the root of your symptoms, or addressing and healing the trauma and emotional tension around your gut issues, you can book a discovery call



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Mårild, Karl & Ye, Weimin & Lebwohl, Benjamin & Green, Peter & Blaser, Martin & Card, Timothy & Ludvigsson, Jonas. (2013). Antibiotic exposure and the development of coeliac disease: A nationwide case-control study. BMC gastroenterology. 13. 109. 10.1186/1471-230X-13-109. 

Heitkemper MM, Cain KC, Jarrett ME, Burr RL, Hertig V, Bond EF. Symptoms across the menstrual cycle in women with irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol. 2003 Feb;98(2):420-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2003.07233.x. PMID: 12591063.

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