How Long Does an IBS Flare-Up Last?

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  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a lifelong digestive condition that affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas, and other digestive issues.

  • IBS flare-ups can be triggered by several dietary, lifestyle, or environmental factors. Identifying and avoiding triggers is the best way to manage these attacks.

  • Although IBS flare-ups can resolve on their own, it's recommended to seek medical attention early on to manage symptoms and minimize the risk of severe attacks.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive condition that affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

IBS is a functional disorder because it rarely causes physical damage to the intestines. Instead, IBS causes changes in digestive tract functioning.

People with IBS experience symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort

  • Stomach cramps

  • Bloating

  • Gas

  • Changes in bowel movements, such as constipation and diarrhea

The exact cause of IBS isn’t yet fully understood, but most medical professionals agree that it involves a sensitivity in the GI tract that can be triggered by several factors.

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What Causes an IBS Flare-Up?

An IBS flare-up or attack is when the symptoms of this condition worsen over a period of time.

These attacks can be triggered by a number of factors, including:

  • Dietary changes

  • Stress and emotional factors, like anxiety

  • Hormonal changes

  • Infections of the GI tract

  • Environmental factors like disruptions in sleep, changes in routine, and traveling

  • Allergies

  • Food intolerances

It’s important to note that each person with IBS may have different triggers that can cause varying symptoms.

You should try to identify your individual triggers and put measures in place that can help you to avoid them.

You can either do this by keeping a symptom diary or by working closely with a licensed medical professional after receiving an IBS diagnosis.

How Long Does an IBS Flare-Up Last?

IBS attacks are different for everyone. Most people may experience a flare-up for two to four days after they trigger IBS symptoms.

In severe cases, an IBS flare-up may last for a few weeks or months.

During this time, you might experience worsening IBS symptoms in waves, where they may come and go over several hours, days, or weeks.

If you take medication to treat IBS symptoms, your symptoms may resolve more quickly, but you may still experience unusual bowel habits and other digestive or gut symptoms.

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Can You Prevent IBS from Flaring Up?

IBS is a lifelong condition that can’t be cured, and flare-ups are a regular part of this condition.

However, there are a few things you can do to relieve symptoms and minimize your risk of suffering frequent IBS attacks. These may include:

  • Identifying and avoiding trigger foods

  • Managing stress and anxiety

  • Following a healthy diet like FODMAP

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Exercising more regularly

  • Taking IBS-specific medications that help to soothe the digestive system

  • Avoiding smoking and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol

  • Drinking enough water

If your flare-ups are frequent or severe, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Severe cases of IBS attacks may require more specialized treatments like prescription drugs or psychological therapies.

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When Should You Seek Medical Attention for an IBS Flare-Up?

Although IBS flare-ups can resolve on their own, they are uncomfortable to deal with. That’s why you should speak with your doctor as soon as you suspect you may have IBS.

Your doctor can recommend treatment options early on that can help you manage your symptoms and minimize the risk of a severe IBS attack.

If you’ve experienced an IBS flare-up, you should seek medical attention if your symptoms become so severe that they significantly impact your daily life.

You should also make an appointment with your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain or discomfort

  • Dehydration

  • Uncontrolled diarrhea or constipation

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Persistent or high fever

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Vomiting

  • Severe abdominal swelling

Experiencing severe IBS flare-up symptoms may be an indication of other underlying medical conditions — like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — that require immediate attention.

Seeing a healthcare professional about your symptoms can help you get the proper treatment as soon as possible.

If you’re struggling with IBS or are concerned about any of your symptoms, you can speak to a board-certified physician or nurse from the comfort of your home.

Head over to LifeMD to schedule a telehealth appointment.

Dr. Anthony Puopolo

Dr. Puopolo holds a B.A. in Biology from Tufts University, M.A. in Biology from Boston University, and Doctor of Medicine from the Boston University School of Medicine. He also completed a Family Medicine and Psychiatry residency program in the U.S. Army.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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