Updated 11 August 2017

Preventing IBS

Healthy lifestyle changes can reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and may even prevent it developing in the first place.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder that is characterised by abdominal discomfort, pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and changes in bowel function.

This disorder used to be called "spastic colon" and for many years people believed that it was a psychological disorder. Doctors now believe the opposite, and while it is generally acknowledged that stress can trigger IBS symptoms, it is a very real condition.

In three-quarters of cases, symptoms are relatively mild and do not interfere with a person’s daily activities. In five percent of cases symptoms are severe and those who suffer from it are constantly in pain and find it impossible to lead a normal life.

The disorder is a result of changes in the way the large intestine functions. This is why both diarrhoea and constipation can be symptoms of IBS. In short, sometimes the large intestine is too active and sometimes not active enough.

Many foods that cause people with IBS severe problems can be eaten by others with no consequences.

Many, but not all, of the prevention strategies for IBS have to do with watching what you eat and when you eat it.

Reduce your stress levels. This is easier said than done, but you could find that taking part in stress-relieving activities could reduce your IBS symptoms. It’s certainly worth a try. These could include finding a relaxation technique that works for you (mediation or breathing), doing yoga or Pilates, or simply getting regular exercise.

Get some exercise. You don’t have to start training like a professional athlete. A brisk 30-minute daily walk would do the trick. Running or swimming would also be ideal for the more energetic – whatever gets you moving and gets your heart rate up.

Speak to your doctor. There are different kinds of medication used to treat IBS, such as antispasmodic medicines, diarrhoea medication, laxatives and antidepressants. Your symptoms will obviously determine what it is that you need.

Cut out certain diarrhoea-causing foodstuffs. Foods renowned for causing IBS-related diarrhoea include soda drinks, insoluble fibre in fruit and vegetables, such as apple skins, foods containing caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, fructose, or the sugar substitute sorbitol, fried and fatty foods, and for some people foods containing wheat or dairy products (especially those who are lactose intolerant).

Cut out constipation-causing foodstuffs. The following foodstuffs can worsen constipation-related IBS: dairy products, especially cheese, refined breads and cereals, biscuits and chips, carbonated drinks and alcohol.

Eat smaller portions. A large meal causes greater contractions of the colon, which could worsen your symptoms.

Eat soluble fibre. This is found in whole wheat bread, brown rice, pasta, oats, barley and the flesh of fruit. Oat bran, available at supermarkets, is a particularly good source of soluble fibre.

Cut out spicy foods. Spicy foods can trigger IBS symptoms for many people. This includes curries, jalapeno sauces and anything with chili or chili sauces.

Cut out the broccoli. Not just the broccoli, but also onions, cabbage and Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. These can cause severe IBS symptoms in many people.

Don’t fry your foods. Grilling, boiling or steaming food, or even microwaving your food, is certainly better for people with IBS than frying foods.

Identify the culprits. Different foodstuffs trigger IBS symptoms in different people. Keep a food diary and record what you eat and how it affects you. You should be able to get an accurate picture within a few weeks of what needs to be avoided.

Medication alert. Some medications can trigger IBS symptoms and colon spasms. These include antibiotics, certain antidepressants and medicines containing sorbitol. Discuss this with your doctor.

Read more:

Causes of IBS

Diagnosing IBS

Treating IBS


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