How to Manage Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

If you’re managing IBS symptoms, you’re not alone. The American College of Gastroenterology estimates that 10 to 15% of people in the US suffer from IBS. IBS symptoms, like bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation can be embarrassing and frustrating. Although there is no cure for IBS, there are many ways that you can manage IBS symptoms. 

Identify Your Triggers

One of the most important ways of managing IBS symptoms is to know what triggers them. To identify your triggers, use a notebook to journal the following:

  • When you notice your symptoms
  • What were you feeling when you noticed your symptoms
  • What did you eat before you noticed your symptoms
  • What were you doing before you noticed your symptoms

Take your symptom journal to appointments with your doctor. Your doctor can help identify your triggers using the information you record in your journal. 

Common triggers for IBS symptoms include:

  • Certain foods, like caffeine and dairy
  • Stress
  • Anxiety 

Modify Your Diet

Your doctor may recommend that you do an elimination diet to help you identify what foods trigger your IBS symptoms. During an elimination diet, you’ll eliminate all foods that are possible triggers, then introduce them one at a time to see which ones cause symptoms. Once you’ve identified foods that cause IBS symptoms, you’ll want to avoid these foods forever. 

Common food triggers for IBS include:

  • Fried foods
  • Dairy 
  • Caffeine
  • Gluten 
  • Alcohol
  • Processed foods

Find Ways to Manage Stress

Stress and anxiety can trigger overactivity of the intestines and therefore can trigger and exacerbate IBS symptoms. Adopting stress-relieving techniques can help ease IBS symptoms. 

Relaxation techniques are scientifically proven to help ease symptoms of IBS. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders outlines three relaxation techniques that help ease IBS symptoms:

  • Diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Visualization/positive imagery

If you need help learning ways to manage anxious thoughts and stress, consider making an appointment with a cognitive-behavioral therapist. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that helps patients identify negative thoughts and behavior patterns that can affect their mental and physical health. Research tells us that cognitive-behavioral therapy is also useful in managing symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders, like IBS, by helping someone change their emotional state. 


Multiple studies prove that physical activity improves IBS symptoms. One study reveals that people who are physically inactive are roughly 3.6 times more likely to suffer from IBS symptoms, compared to people who are physically active. Another study shows that different types of exercise can have relieving effects on IBS symptoms. The types of exercise that patients performed during this study include:

  • Walking
  • Aerobic physical activity
  • Yoga
  • Tai Ji
  • Qigong
  • Mountain climbing

Prioritize Getting Quality Sleep 

IBS can negatively impact quality of sleep and poor sleep can make IBS symptoms worse. If you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, try some of these tips to improve sleep quality:

  • Play soft music to help relax
  • Take a warm shower or bath before going to bed
  • Avoid screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Try a breathe relaxation technique

Find What Works Best For You

IBS treatment is different for most people and the treatment that best relieves IBS symptoms for one person may not be what’s best for you. The best way to treat IBS symptoms is to find what works for you and stick to it. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure what your IBS triggers are.