IBS Triggers

Although stress is often seen as a trigger for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and events over the last year has certainly been anxiety-inducing, it seems that periods of lockdown might actually improve IBS symptoms in sufferers, according to a new study.

Presented at the virtual 2021 Digestive Disease Week conference, researchers from Argentina examined the impact that a mandatory lockdown period had on the ‘brain-gut axis’ symptoms in 129 IBS sufferers.

They observed a significant decrease in severity of symptoms compared to a pre-pandemic period. This was both in IBS symptoms such as pain and distention and also stool consistency. Improvement was also seen in anxiety levels.

“Our results reinforce the concept that IBS, or functional gastrointestinal disorders, have a connection to psychosocial factors, as well as food and other factors,” study lead Dr Juan Pablo Stefanolo, a gastroenterology physician at Buenos Aires University in Argentina, said in a statement. “The gut-brain axis has a lot of facets.”

While the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, Dr Stefanolo concluded: “We think the results have something to do with people staying at home. They were not exposed to outside stress, and at home they were able to avoid food triggers.”

What are the main triggers of IBS?

While the exact cause of IBS is not known, there do seem to be common triggers that can cause IBS flare-ups and treatment of this condition will vary according to symptoms but include dietary and behaviour modifications, probiotics and medications.

  1. Stress: the gut-brain axis connects the central nervous system with gut activity and many sufferers find that stress can play a role in making their IBS worse. This could be because stress activates hormones that affect gut motility and therefore cause increase sensitivity and pain.
  2. Certain medications: some medications can exacerbate IBS because constipation or diarrhoea is a side effect – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are a common culprit.
  3. Diet: it’s no surprise that certain foods can make this gut condition worse, but which foods trigger IBS symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Common dietary triggers include fruits that contain high fructose levels, dairy products or sweeteners that contain polyols.
  4. Poor sleep patterns: not getting enough quality sleep can be a major contributor to IBS. A 2016 study published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics journal, found that that those with IBS woke up more frequently throughout the night, which correlated with worse IBS-related pain and more days with IBS symptoms.

For more advice on managing your IBS triggers, get in touch to arrange a consultation with Mr Michael Stellakis.