What does an IBS attack feel like?
Wondering what an IBS attack or flare-up can feel like and if this is what’s happening to you? In this article, Nutritionist Emma helps you understand some of the signs of an IBS attack, including how it can make you feel, how long one can last, plus tips to help overcome it.
When experiencing an IBS attack you can feel bloated and gassy (flatulence). You can also experience pain or cramps in your lower abdomen and feel an urgency to go to the toilet, alongside a change in bowel movements, including constipation, diarrhoea or alternating bouts of both constipation and diarrhoea.
As well as the common symptoms, an IBS attack or flare-up can also make you feel nauseous, anxious and low in energy (fatigue). Other lesser-known symptoms include indigestion, acid reflux or regurgitation, sweating and headaches.
In many cases, the symptoms of an IBS attack may start to become apparent quite soon after eating, and they may then start to subside after a trip to the loo. However, these patterns can vary across different people and this isn’t applicable to everyone.
How long does an IBS attack or flare-up last?
The symptoms of IBS can be variable. For some, an IBS attack can start to subside after going to the toilet, for example, and for others, it may feel like the symptoms are much longer-lasting.
In some unfortunate cases, symptoms could last for much longer, even up to a few days. For others, the symptoms can come in waves so, despite not always being consistent, they can actually linger for much longer – even up to several days or weeks at a time.
Who may suffer from an IBS attack?
IBS is a fairly common condition, with some reports estimating that 1 in 7 people are thought to suffer, although woman are notably almost twice as likely to suffer than men. (2) This could be partly due to female hormones which may have a part to play (which may make IBS attacks more likely at certain times of the month), but the exact cause of IBS is often unclear and may even vary from person to person.
IBS may also be more likely to manifest if you have a family history of the condition. So, this could also be indication of whether or not what you are experiencing is, indeed, IBS. However, it is unclear if this means the condition is a result of nature, nurture or both. (3)
Finally, IBS is often more common in younger people, with women in their 20s and 30s being much more likely to be newly diagnosed than people over the age of 50.
Still in doubt? Take our IBS symptoms checker test to give you some idea of what might be going on, although if your symptoms persist a formal diagnosis from a doctor is always recommended.
Could it be something else?
If you are experiencing routine digestive upset you might, quite rightly so, wonder if it is IBS or if it could be something else? Only your doctor is able to answer that for definite. Your doctor will often help to rule out other digestive conditions such as the Inflammatory Bowel Disease subtypes; Ulcerative Colitis or Crohns disease, before making a formal diagnosis.
Please note, if your symptoms include a sudden or unexpected change in your bowel movements, any new or old blood which would appear as red or black stools respectively, or any extreme or persistent pain, you should always refer back to your doctor for further advice.
What to do to calm the symptoms of an IBS attack
If you think you are experiencing an IBS attack or flare-up, you’ll most likely be keen to help calm these uncomfortable symptoms. My advice to help do this is as follows:
1. Take a breath
Whether or not stress is likely to be a direct trigger for you, working through an IBS attack with as much calm as you can muster is important. Stress hypes up your sympathetic nervous system which will only risk shutting down your digestive system further, causing additional upset.
Taking big deep breaths and exhaling for longer, in particular, helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system which helps to promote calm and, handily, more of your ‘rest and digest’ functions.
2. Listen to your body
The symptoms of IBS can be varied and this is partly the reason why there is no known ‘cure’. Rather than this being an unhelpful end to the story, it may be time to take matters into your own hands – have you really stopped to consider exactly what sort of IBS attacks you experience?
Identifying triggers can be a useful first step too. In some cases, dietary triggers are apparent in which case you can make a start there, for example, by limiting your intake of FODMAPs. In other cases, stress, anxiety or other mental health issues may be underling in which case you might want to focus your attention on getting some help in that department.
Conversely, IBS may stem back to stomach problems which can be apparent if gastric symptoms including reflux, indigestion or belching are common features of your IBS flare-ups. If this is the case, whilst Silicol Gel may be helpful, as I go on to discuss next, pairing this with a herbal bitters remedy such as Digestisan, would also be recommended.
Try and IBS remedy
Whether your IBS attacks are few and far between or cropping up much more regularly, you’ll understandably want a remedy on hand to help calm them down.
Silicol® Gel contains silicic acid which helps to create a protective layer through the length of the digestive tract and can, therefore, help to calm a number of IBS symptoms including nausea, bowel discomfort or diarrhoea.