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Experiencing an IBS Flare Up? What Helps Right Away

Feature, Gut Health & IBS | November 7, 2022

A young girl feeding her father a nutritious homemade sandwich.
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms can present themselves at the best and worst of times – it can be SO inconvenient. Symptoms of IBS can be unpredictable and extremely frustrating to experience. Even with good management of IBS, it’s normal to have fluctuations in symptom control. As a digestive health dietitian, I often get asked about ways to get quick IBS relief. While not every solution will work the same for each person with IBS, I have a few common suggestions for those looking for quick relief.

Here are 5 quick solutions you can try when symptoms flare up.

1. Peppermint

Peppermint is a well-researched herbal option that can help manage IBS symptoms.  Although peppermint is a food product, it is also sold in over-the-counter formats designed to help with digestive troubles.  It helps to calm down the stomach, decrease abdominal pain, and relieve symptoms such distention.  It does this by naturally relaxing the smooth muscles of the gut.  It comes in a variety of forms, including peppermint tea, liquid, and capsules.  Enteric-coated capsules are the most evidenced based method of taking peppermint oil for relief, as the dose is controlled, and the peppermint oil reaches the right spot – the small intestines.  Peppermint is low risk and a great back-up to have on hand for treatment of unexpected symptoms.

A person sitting on a wooden bench staring out at the sunset over the ocean with a suspension bridge in the distance.

2. Iberogast

Iberogast is another over-the-counter herbal product that can help in the management of IBS symptoms. It is a mix of 9 plant extracts, including angelica root, caraway fruit, camomile flowers, milk thistle fruits, lemon balm leaves, celandine, peppermint leaves, and liquorice root.  Although it does not have as much research as peppermint alone, studies have found that relief of symptoms can occur within 30-60 minutes of consumption.  Keep in mind that many herbal products haven’t been formally tested and determined safe for pregnancy and breast feeding.  If you would like to use Iberogast during those conditions, it should be under the advice and care of a health professional.  Overall, this is another low-risk strategy to keep in your symptom management toolkit!

3. Heating Pad

One of the most common and frustrating symptoms of IBS is abdominal pain.  Relaxing with a heating pad can be soothing to the gut and mind.  Taking a quiet moment to yourself with a heating pad of choice (water, electric, or a bean/grain-filled version) can calm that initial pain and stress that comes with the onset of symptoms.  Some people find going to bed with a hot water bottle or magic bag is a great way to get some much-needed sleep.  Sleep is incredibly important for our overall health and well-being, including reducing symptoms of IBS.

4. Stress Management & Mindfulness

If you have been living with IBS, it’s likely you have noticed that stress can make symptoms so much worse!  We live in a busy and hectic world, which naturally comes with a great deal of stress.  Your brain and gut communicate with each other constantly – a phenomenon you may have heard called the gut-brain connection.  If the communication is negative (ie. stress, anxiety, overwhelm), it can negatively impact symptoms.

Figuring out how to manage your stress will only help to improve quality of life and your IBS symptoms.  Stress can lead to an increase in perceived gut pain and can affect how quickly things move through our digestive tract.  When symptoms arise (which is stressful in itself!) try calming the mind with your chosen stress management technique.  A few that have worked for my clients include:

  • Yoga – Yoga can be a very effective stress reliever. Try a free 30 minute yoga for digestion class with Ignite Nutrition’s registered dietitian and registered yoga instructor Andrea Clarke!
  • Journaling – Try keeping a gratitude journal at night in which you list 2-3 things you were grateful for from the day.
  • Guided Meditation – Try listening to guided meditation through a phone application, online, or from a book. Even just 5 minutes can induce a calmer state.
  • Go for a walk outside – Changing your atmosphere and getting some fresh air and gentle movement can significantly change your stress level and mood.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Lying down on your back with your eyes closed, alternately tense and relax your muscles. Start with your toes and feet, then up into your legs, into the abdomen, chest, hands and arms, and finally your face. You can then alternately tense your muscles back down to your toes.

5. Deep Belly Breaths

Deep belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a technique that expands the abdomen, instead of just the chest wall when breathing.  We tend to breathe quite shallowly throughout the day, especially under heightened stress.  Alternatively, deep belly breathing induces a relaxed state and can calm stress and anxiety.  It helps us to switch into a rest-and-digest state instead of fight-or-flight.  When you notice the onset of IBS symptoms, it can further escalate our stress and potentially lead to rapid breathing.  

Take a second to check-in with yourself when symptoms arise and practice 5 deep belly breaths to induce a calm state.  This can also be helpful before meals or when reintroducing foods.  It’s free and inconspicuous!

The Takeaway

IBS is a very challenging condition to work through and sometimes quick IBS relief is a challenge!  While trying the above techniques is a great start, everyone’s IBS journey is unique, and you may need additional support. If you are struggling to manage IBS symptoms, working with an IBS dietitian is recommended.  A dietitian will work with you to individualize your treatment and find effective solutions to aid in your IBS control.

A person sitting on a wooden bench staring out at the sunset over the ocean with a suspension bridge in the distance.
Will peppermint help with an IBS flare up?

Peppermint tea or enteric coated peppermint capsules may help to reduce symptoms of IBS including abdominal pain, cramping, and distention. It does this by naturally relaxing the smooth muscles of the gut. Learn more about quick IBS symptom solutions.

What can I do to reduce stress during an IBS flare up?

You can practice mindfulness based stress reduction during a flare up of IBS by trying yoga, guided meditation, deep belly breathing, and more.

Katie Cybulskie
About the Author

Katie Cybulskie

Katie Cybulskie is a skilled dietitian who has been practicing since 2007 and has a wide variety of nutrition knowledge. She is licensed in both BC and Alberta and sees patients virtually. With lived experience of a digestive disorder, she is fantastic with patients who have IBS, celiac disease, GERD, and other gastrointestinal concerns. Her ability to translate nutrition science in a simple and approachable way is what makes her so good at what she does.

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