What Triggers Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

what triggers irritable bowel syndromeIf you are among the 10-15% of Americans who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you know how disruptive the recurring symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation can be to your everyday life. Knowing what triggers irritable bowel syndrome can help you avoid flare-ups and lead a healthier, more normal life.

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a chronic disorder that affects the large intestine and is characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort. Signs and symptoms of IBS include:

  • Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating that is typically relieved or partially relieved by passing a bowel movement
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Excess gas
  • Mucus in the stool

There isn’t a definitive answer to what causes irritable bowel syndrome, but leading theories suggest immune system responses, hormonal changes, changes in gut bacteria, or an overly sensitive colon may be to blame.

What Triggers Irritable Bowel Syndrome?


  • Food is one of the most common irritable bowel syndrome triggers, but specific trigger foods can vary from person to person. It is recommended to keep a food journal to track how you react to various foods – including the most common triggers – so you can adjust your diet accordingly. Common foods that cause IBS constipation symptoms include:


    • Breads and cereals made with refined (not whole) grains
    • Carbonated drinks, coffee, and alcohol
    • Dairy products, especially cheese
    • High-protein diets

Foods that can trigger IBS diarrhea symptoms include:

    • Carbonated drinks
    • Dairy products (especially in those with lactose intolerance)
    • Food and drinks with alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, fructose, or sorbitol
    • Fried and fatty foods
    • Large meals
    • Too much fiber, particularly insoluble fiber found in the skin of fruits and vegetables

You should also avoid gassy foods – such as beans, Brussels sprouts, 

broccoli, wheat germ, and celery – to ease symptoms of gas and bloating.


  • Stress can increase the frequency or severity of IBS symptoms, due in large part to the gut-brain connection. Stress can be caused by work, relationship problems, your commute, or even insufficient sleep. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and engaging in fun, relaxing activities can help reduce stress and improve your IBS symptoms.
  • Hormonal changes play a role in IBS symptoms, which is why women are twice as likely to have irritable bowel syndrome, and why most women find their symptoms are worse during their menstrual cycle.
  • Certain medications can trigger irritable bowel syndrome flare-ups, particularly antibiotics, which can disrupt your gut’s microbiome and allow unhealthy bacteria to overwhelm the good bacteria. Other medications that can worsen IBS include certain antidepressants and medicines made with sorbitol, such as cough syrup.


Find Relief from Irritable Bowel Syndrome at Anchor Wellness Center

Board Certified in Family Medicine as well as Board Certified with the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Minni Malhotra can identify what triggers your irritable bowel syndrome and come up with a personalized treatment plan to restore you to optimal health and avoid flare-ups. To learn more about our functional medicine approach to gut health, call us today at (832) 246-8437 and schedule a consultation with Dr. Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM.

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