An IBS flare-up is a sudden outburst of IBS symptoms.
Flare-ups can lasts for as short as a few days or for weeks at a time.
I'd feel great for a week or two, only to be followed then by weeks of severe bloating, constipation, upper abdominal pain, and over all fatigue.
I was poked, prodded, and given no answers, other than, it was "just my IBS."
Except "just my IBS" was ruining my quality of life.
I was down-hearted and desperate for help but doctors and lab tests didn't have the answers.
I had to figure out myself, how to manage my IBS flare-ups.
(In addition to managing day to day symptoms - which I'll blog about soon)
OVER THE YEARS - I have experienced similar bouts of flare ups, so I wanted to share my top five tips for managing an IBS flare-up since it's a question I'm emailed about quite frequently and while there is no one size fits all answer, women who have reached out are gracious for my guidance.
I am just finally feeling better after a month long flare-up that truly put these tips to the test.
The photos below this post are what my stomach looked like, almost daily for the last month.
TOP 5 TIPS FOR MANAGING IBS FLARE UPS
- Attempt to identify what could be causing the sudden flare-up
This will involve examining your recent life, dietary, exercise, sleep, drinking, and social habits.
Examples of things to think about that could be the culprit to causing a flare up:
- Assess your recent stress levels
--> life, work, school, home, etc.
Excessive stress, repeatedly, wreaks havoc on your gut
- Ask yourself about your recent eating habits (in a nonjudgmental way)
--> Have you been skipping meals/snacking late, eating while standing, gone out to eat, tried
new foods/ingredients/products or done SOMETHING different lately?
Food can often be linked to many of my mini flare-ups, especially if I have high FODMAP or fatty foods
or too many chips...and by too many, I mean an entire bag of tortilla chips #whoops #noselfcontrol
- Check in with your body and exercise
--> Have you been under or over exercising ? Physical activity can help those who suffer from IBS, but too much movement, even though healthy can also put your intestines in a constant state of stress, causing them to become inflamed and flare-up.
- IBS Symptom Triggers
--> Alcohol, caffeine, and fatty foods are known culprits to cause symptoms, too much and a flare-up can ensue.
--> Certain medications such as antibiotics or even anti-inflammatories can irritate your intestines, long term use can create issues for those with IBS.
- Getting enough sleep?
--> Lack of sleep, consistently, can cause a flare-up since your body isn't getting enough rest
- Traveling/Being OUT of your Daily Routine
--> Consistent traveling often makes it hard for someone to go to the bathroom, which, whether you have IBS D or IBS C, is an issue and can lead to a flare-up due to the lack of emptying out.
Often times, determining the exact cause for a flare-up is extremely difficult - and can be maddening, but taking a look at your lifestyle and recent habits might help you pinpoint a possible cause which can then help you a)avoid this if possible in the future b)change whatever it is you are doing c)treat the symptoms For me, flare-ups often ensue around periods of high stress in my life, which then results in me overeating high fodmap foods and then becoming constipated and bloated and being unable to empty out my system, which results in the need for extra medication, causing intestinal inflammation... which then leads to bloating and a full flare-up is born. OR SOMETIMES THERE IS NO RHYME OR REASON AND YOUR INTESTINES ARE JUST LIKE "YUP, NOW IS GREAT TIME TO BE IRATE."
- Identify your Main Flare-Up Symptom(s) - Focus on Managing these First
When flaring, your body is in disarray - it can be overwhelming to try and "fix it all" so pick your most bothersome symptoms - your TYPE of IBS may determine which course of action could be best.
ALSO - if you are unsure of how to manage your symptoms during a flare, please call your doctor!
Pain - yoga poses for IBS can be therapeutic for releasing trapped air, essential oils such as lavender have helped me when I couldn't sleep from cramps, AVOID TAKING OVER THE COUNTER PAIN KILLERS, IF POSSIBLE, - they will only FURTHER inflame your intestines, if pain is a significant problem, you need to speak with your doctor!, L massage (google it!)
NOW I paired the next two in groups, because if trapped air isn't causing your bloating then it's incomplete emptying or overactive emptying.
Bloating/Constipation with IBS C - Miralax is a GENTLE laxative and has minimal side effects with immediate use, and is safe to use long term or for repeated amounts of time, check with your doctor before doubling up on medication such as Linzess, try increasing water intake, trying to go for walks to help things stay moving, eating EASY to digest foods and avoiding eating multiple fruits and vegetables in one sitting (that's a lot for your already overworked system to process)
Bloating/Urgency with IBS D - Short term - Immodium can help, ask your doctor if there are other medications you can take such as Vibreze, and while experiencing D, try the BRAT diet short term to minimize the amount of stool being produced and to help bind things together to reduce urgency.
Fatigue - try to allow additional time for sleep, maybe give yourself an extra rest day or decline a late night out - your body NEEDS rest, it's tired from being sick, there is no shame in saying no.
Those two pieces of advice help with the physical stress and trauma your body is enduring,
they do not help your mental state - which, anyone who has IBS, knows how detrimental it can be to your state of mind, body image and social life. ADD ON TOP OF THAT, not being able to figure out why you're sick (because remember, IBS is a functional disorder, meaning the function of your intestines doesn't always work properly, and sometimes there is NO reason why)
- Practice self-love and self-care, be patient with yourself, and accept where you are at.
It can be VERY easy to become overcritical of yourself when flaring. If bloating is a main symptom, clothes might not fit and your energy levels might be lower than usual. THIS IS NORMAL - THIS IS YOUR IBS IN ITS PHYSICAL FORM - YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT IT AND LOVE YOURSELF STILL.
Focus on POSITIVES about your body/self and give yourself reasonable tasks to accomplish. Remember, you do not always look or feel like this and right now, your body needs extra love, not extra self-loathing stress. Find ways to make yourself feel good - whether it be writing, reading, watching a favorite movie, connecting with others, knitting, or going to the gym, do something FOR YOURSELF that releases endorphins and makes you feel good. Being happy releases serotonin and serotonin is GREAT for your gut! Plus, you are more likely to make better choices when you are in a happy state of mind. (For example, if I am sad/frustrated and flaring, I will reach for high FODMAP or high fat foods or something else I know will irritate my intestines and think - "oh well, I'm already sick" and will eat more than necessary but this negative thinking and action process only perpetuates the flare-up.) REMEMBER: SELF LOVE IS ALSO BEING OKAY WITH CRYING AND BEING MAD SOMETIMES - just don’t wallow in it, make a plan and move forward!
- Have a SOLID support system - OR REACH OUT TO ME! I love helping, you are not alone!
When struggling physically with your health, it's important to have people you can count on.
You might need someone to get extra medication for you, or just listen to you and try to understand your current struggles or be patient with you when you're feeling stuck in a health rut.
- Find friends who understand why you might have to cancel plans or change plans to be by a bathroom or staying in at your house instead.
- Find friends who suffer the same way you do, I made friends with a fellow instagrammer in 2013 who had severe IBS like me and we’d text and commiserate together but also try to help uplift each other when we were struggling or share tips that helped alleviate symptoms
- Educate the people you love, so they can understand and best help you in your times of need.
An awesome support system is NOT built overnight. It takes TIME AND EFFORT and ADVOCACY on your part. What I mean by that, is most people don't understand how debilitating IBS can be, because it's taboo, people don't talk about it. SO how can someone support you, if they don't understand your condition? Go into as little or as much detail as possible. It's YOUR choice.
I am beyond blessed - I have an INCREDIBLE network of support. My husband is amazing, he has NO shame going to the store to buy me magnesium citrate, telling family/friends why I'm REALLY not at the social event, and doing his best to keep me laughing and telling me I'm the most beautiful girl in the world, when my stomach is bloated and I feel the flare-up is taking over me. My mom and dad are my OG supporters, been there for me since my first endoscopy at seven, and do their best to support me from afar by letting me rant on the phone. And I am lucky to have friends, who just GET me and my idiosyncrasies with my irate IBS, and why I might cancel or change our plans, but they love me anyway and check in on me when I'm not feeling good.
- Look good, feel good. And if that doesn't work -->Fake it 'till you make it. Seriously.
One of the main symptoms of flare-ups for many is extreme and uncomfortable bloating.
With a societal and self-put pressure most people feel to "look a certain way" bloating can be detrimental to one's body image, especially if it extends for a period of time. Negative self-talk about your body can lead to negative emotions and an overall downward mess of feelings BUT YOU HAVE A CHOICE TO STOP THAT NEGATIVITY IN ITS TRACKS! It requires effort and a mindset shift.
--> FIND "FEEL GOOD CLOTHES" - in your closet, have outfits, pants, dresses, accessories, WHATEVER floats your boat, that you can put on, regardless of how bloated you are or how crummy you feel on the inside and say "I LOOK GOOD" because, when you LOOK GOOD and are HAPPY, it makes you FEEL GOOD, and we already talked about the emotional brain gut connection and how stress exacerbates flares and serotonin, or being happy, HELPS. And if you are COMFORTABLE in what you are wearing, you won't focus so much on how uncomfortable your insides might feel. Personally speaking, when I am flaring, I can NOT for the life of me, fit into my dress pants for work. They don't button SO I make sure I have a closet full of cute, flowy dresses that I LOVE, and wear normally, so I know I can put them on and feel good about myself.
--> Fake it 'till you make it.
Sometimes, even if you get dressed up in your favorite outfit, you might still feel upset/miserable/frustrated/sick/some sort of negative emotion. This is normal, it's okay to be in a funk, you don't have to feel your best every day BUT if a flare-up is lingering around for days on end, a strategy I like to call "fake it 'till you make it" comes in. Get dressed, show up, and get out of your own head and focus on whatever your day to day responsibilities are whether it be work/school/parenting/etc. or maybe dive into a passion or a project you've been meaning to accomplish. By trying to adhere to as normal of a routine as possible and being with others and focusing on your work, or taking solo time to work on a project, it sometimes HELPS you divert your frustration and feelings of negativity with your own body. People who suffer from IBS have highly sensitive guts, so the more we focus on symptoms, the worse it can actually make them.
I am a high school reading teacher, and I LOVE my job, so for me, going to work, and being a positive support and role model for my students, although it doesn't physically make anything better during a flare-up, puts me mentally in a better state of mind.
SO this was supposed to be 5 but there was ONE more, I needed to tell you all:
- Remember - "This too shall pass"
In my darkest times, when I was living alone and on nine medications a day, my dad would remind me of this phrase....and it's something I want to share with ALL of you, who might be struggling.
Flare-ups can be brutal, but remember, it WILL get better, eventually. Time is the healer of all wounds.
Sometimes, flare-ups can mimic other medical conditions that require further medication or treatment.
Just recently I had a bacterial overgrowth in my intestines, which is why my flare-up lasted so long, and I am STILL getting additional testing done due to other markers that came up in my blood work I had done. SO PLEASE BE YOUR BEST ADVOCATE AND SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF YOUR FLARE-UPS KEEP COMING BACK OR IF THEY LINGER FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME.
- Do you have any tips I missed?
- Informative posts like this - helpful?
- Please reach out to me via comments or the contact tab if you have questions
- Stay STRONG <3