How do I calm an IBS flare?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder affecting the large intestine. It can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. IBS symptoms often flare up periodically. While there is no cure for IBS, there are many ways to help manage and calm a flare up when it occurs.

What causes an IBS flare up?

Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes IBS, but they believe the following factors may contribute to flare ups:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Hormonal changes
  • Food intolerances and sensitivities (common triggers include dairy, gluten, beans, cabbage, and fried or fatty foods)
  • Medications like antibiotics
  • Intestinal infection
  • Changes in gut bacteria

When the intestines are irritated, the muscles in the digestive tract either contract too much or not enough. This affects the movement of food and waste through the GI tract, leading to IBS symptoms.

Tips for calming an IBS flare

When you feel an IBS flare coming on, try some of these methods to help calm your symptoms:

Modify your diet

  • Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms like dairy, beans, cabbage, carbonated drinks, alcohol, and fried or fatty foods.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals to prevent digestive upset from large volumes of food.
  • Limit high FODMAP foods which can ferment in the colon and cause gas and bloating. High FODMAP foods include onions, garlic, wheat, apples, milk, mushrooms, and beans.
  • Increase soluble fiber from foods like oatmeal, nuts, seeds, lentils, berries, and some fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber can help regulate digestion.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, herbal tea, or broth.

Try soothing remedies

  • Apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to your abdomen to relieve cramps and pain.
  • Have a cup of chamomile, peppermint, or ginger tea to reduce intestinal spasms.
  • Take a warm bath to relax the digestive muscles.
  • Massage your abdomen gently to stimulate the intestines.
  • Try meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or mindfulness exercises to lower stress.

Consider medications and supplements

  • Over-the-counter medications like Pepto-Bismol can help treat diarrhea and calm symptoms.
  • Imodium is an anti-diarrheal that slows intestinal contractions.
  • Simethicone helps break up gas bubbles to reduce bloating.
  • Peppermint oil capsules have antispasmodic effects to relieve abdominal pain and cramping.
  • Probiotics may help restore balance to the gut bacteria and improve IBS symptoms over time.

Avoid trigger foods and reduce stress

Once a flare up improves, you may be able to prevent future episodes by:

  • Keeping a food diary to identify problem foods that worsen your IBS.
  • Managing stress through relaxation techniques, therapy, or medications if anxiety and depression are triggers.
  • Exercising regularly to reduce stress and stimulate healthy digestion.
  • Getting enough sleep since fatigue can impact gut function.
  • Taking medications or supplements prescribed by your doctor to manage IBS symptoms long-term.

When to see a doctor

Seek medical care if you experience:

  • Severe pain that doesn’t improve with over-the-counter remedies
  • Diarrhea lasting more than a few days
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever or vomiting

These symptoms could indicate a more serious health condition requiring medical evaluation.

IBS flare diet

Eating a modified diet during an IBS flare can help calm symptoms. Here are some tips:

Foods to eat

  • Low-fiber fruits and vegetables – bananas, canned peaches, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini
  • Low-fiber grains – white rice, white bread, crackers, refined cereals
  • Lean proteins – chicken, turkey, fish, eggs
  • Non-dairy milk substitutes – almond, coconut, rice milk
  • Herbal teas – chamomile, peppermint, ginger
  • Olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil

Foods to avoid

  • High-fiber fruits and vegetables – dried fruits, berries, broccoli, beans, cabbage
  • Whole grains – whole wheat bread, brown rice, bran cereal, oats
  • Fried or fatty foods
  • Dairy products
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol, carbonated beverages
  • Spicy seasonings

IBS flare meal plan

When following an IBS flare diet, aim for smaller meals more frequently to allow the digestive system to rest. Here is a sample one day meal plan:

Meal Foods
Breakfast Scrambled eggs, white toast, banana, herbal tea
Snack Rice cakes with peanut butter, pear
Lunch Grilled chicken breast, white rice, steamed carrots, olive oil, sparkling water
Snack Low-fat yogurt, blueberries
Dinner Baked fish, white potato, spinach salad with olive oil, peppermint tea

Stress management for IBS flares

Since stress often exacerbates IBS symptoms, incorporating relaxation techniques can help calm a flare up. Try these tips:

  • Deep breathing – Inhale deeply through the nose, hold for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through the mouth. Repeat for 10 minutes.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – Tense and relax each muscle group sequentially from head to toe.
  • Guided imagery – Picture a peaceful scene like the beach or forest while listening to soft music.
  • Meditation and mindfulness – Sit quietly while focusing on the present moment and your breathing.
  • Light exercise – Go for a walk, do gentle yoga or stretching.
  • Get a massage to relieve muscle tension.

Practicing stress-reducing activities for 10-20 minutes daily can significantly ease anxiety and calm the gut.

IBS flare treatment guidelines

Doctors may recommend medications or other treatments for recurring IBS flares. Treatment guidelines include:

  • Anti-diarrheals like loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea
  • Laxatives like Miralax for constipation
  • Antispasmodics like dicyclomine (Bentyl) for painful cramps
  • Tricyclic antidepressants for pain and diarrhea
  • SSRIs like Prozac or Zoloft for anxiety and depression
  • Probiotics to improve gut bacteria balance
  • Peppermint oil capsules to reduce spasms
  • Fiber supplements to regulate bowel movements
  • Elimination diets to identify trigger foods
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to manage stress and anxiety

Keep a symptom diary and work with your doctor to find the most effective treatment regimen for your IBS flares.

Preventing IBS flares

While IBS flare ups cannot always be prevented, the following lifestyle measures can reduce episodes:

  • Follow an IBS-friendly diet and limit trigger foods
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Take probiotics and fiber supplements if recommended
  • Manage stress through relaxation techniques, therapy, or medication
  • Get enough sleep and exercise regularly
  • Avoid medications that irritate the gut like antibiotics
  • Quit smoking, which exacerbates IBS symptoms
  • Take prescribed medications consistently

Though challenging, try to identify and reduce potential triggers to keep your IBS well-controlled day-to-day.


IBS flares can be frustrating and disruptive. Making dietary modifications, practicing stress-relieving activities, taking medications, and avoiding triggers can help calm flare ups and prevent their recurrence. Work closely with your healthcare provider to find an effective IBS management plan tailored to your symptoms. With the right treatment approach, you can achieve longer periods of relief between flares and an improved quality of life.

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