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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Triggers and Prevention

By taking steps to prevent the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it is possible to lead a productive, healthy life. With some planning, you can avoid IBS triggers that cause symptom flares. Your doctor can provide a complete treatment plan for IBS prevention.

Print out this list of common IBS triggers and prevention strategies. Keep it handy for reference. It may help you identify personal triggers in an IBS symptom journal. Triggers and symptoms may vary depending on the type of IBS. And when you're having a bad day, remember to persist with healthy management of your condition.

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Types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

There are three types of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. They include: IBS with constipation. This comes with stomach pain and discomfort, bloating, abnormally delayed or infrequent bowel movement, or lumpy/hard stool. IBS with diarrhea. This comes with stomach pain and discomfort, an urgent need to move your bowels, abnormally frequent bowel movements, or loose/watery stool. IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhea. There are about an equal number of people...

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"Realize that it's not always smooth sailing. That's a part of IBS," says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of the American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion. "You can't beat yourself up."

1. Diet Triggers for IBS Constipation

Some foods can worsen IBS-related constipation. These include:

  • Refined breads and cereals
  • Refined foods such as chips and cookies
  • Drinks such as coffee, carbonated drinks, and alcohol
  • High-protein diets
  • Dairy products, especially cheese

Prevention Strategies:

  • Gradually boost fiber intake by two to three grams per day until you're eating 20 to 35 grams per day. Good sources of fiber include whole grain bread and cereals, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Consume a moderate amount of foods higher in sorbitol, such as dried plums and prune juice.
  • Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of plain water a day.
  • Try ground flaxseed. It can be sprinkled on salads and cooked vegetables.

2. Diet Triggers for IBS Diarrhea

Some foods can worsen IBS-related diarrhea. These include:

  • Too much fiber, especially insoluble fiber found in the skin of fruits and vegetables
  • Food and drinks with chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, fructose, or the sugar substitute sorbitol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Large meals
  • Fried and fatty foods
  • Food and drinks with dairy, especially in people with lactose intolerance
  • Foods with wheat -- Some people may be allergic or have a negative reaction to gluten

Prevention Strategies:

  • Eat a moderate amount of soluble fiber. It adds bulk to the colon and can help prevent spasms. Good sources are whole wheat breads, oats, barley, brown rice, pasta, the flesh of fruit (as opposed to the skin), and dried fruits.
  • Don't consume foods with extreme temperatures, such as ice-cold water and steaming hot soup, in the same meal.
  • Stay away from broccoli, onions, and cabbage. They can cause gas, which can make diarrhea sufferers feel worse.
  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of plain water a day, but drink the water an hour before or after meals, not with meals.
  • Consult with your doctor or a dietitian if you suspect you may have a wheat allergy.

Some people with IBS have symptoms similar to lactose intolerance with excess gas. A trial of a lactose-free diet and avoidance of foods that produce excess gas such as beans, brussels sprouts, pretzels, bagels, wheat germ, raisins, and celery may help reduce symptoms.

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