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Dr QM Leong
Dr QM Leong

How Long Does An IBS Flare Up/Attack Last? 4 Crucial Facts

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common but often misunderstood condition affecting millions across the globe. Characterised by fluctuating symptoms that can include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation, people will often ask how long an IBS attack lasts.

After all, IBS can significantly impact your daily life. That is why understanding how to manage and treat this chronic condition is essential for those with it.

Through a combination of proper medication, dietary adjustments, and lifestyle changes, managing IBS flare-ups is possible. In this blog, we’ll delve into the various aspects of IBS, exploring its symptoms, triggers, and effective strategies to bring relief. Whether newly diagnosed or seeking to better control your symptoms, this guide offers a comprehensive insight into living more comfortably with IBS.

 

1. IBS Typically Lasts From Two To Four Days

IBS is a chronic condition that affects the digestive tract, leading to symptoms like abdominal pain, stomach cramps, and altered bowel movements. It’s a relief to know that the discomfort is often temporary and crucial to managing and treating IBS symptoms effectively.

How Does It Feel When It Starts

IBS flare-ups refer to periods when the symptoms become more pronounced or severe. These flare-ups can disrupt daily life and significantly affect an individual’s comfort and well-being. Understanding what an IBS flare-up feels like when it starts can help in early recognition and management.

IBS flare-ups don’t usually come on suddenly without warning. Often, early signs may signal the start of a flare-up. These can include:

Increased Abdominal Sensitivity: An uncomfortable sensation or increased sensitivity in the abdomen may precede other symptoms. This could mean a heightened perception of pain, discomfort, or abdominal sensations. This means that the typical symptoms of IBS become more intense.

Changes in Bowel Movements: An alteration in the regular pattern of bowel movements, such as increased frequency or constipation.

Bloating and Gas: Feeling bloated or experiencing excessive gas can be early indicators.

 

2. Why Do IBS Flare Ups Last Two To Four Days?

The typical duration of an IBS flare-up, lasting from 2 to 4 days, can be attributed to the gut’s response to various triggers such as:

Dietary Triggers

Certain foods and beverages can irritate the digestive system, leading to a temporary flare-up. This includes fatty foods, dairy products, and fruits high in fructose, like apples and pears. You should also stay away from beans and legumes, coffee, and alcohol, as they will also trigger your IBS.

It is more important to identify your specific trigger foods. A low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) or gluten-free diet can reduce symptoms and help calm IBS flare-ups.

Stress Triggers

Stress levels and emotional strain can cause the gut to overreact, resulting in an IBS flare-up lasting a few hours or even days. You may also look deeper into relaxation techniques such as visualisation, deep breathing, and ​muscle relaxation to help control stress levels. Adhering to a regular exercise schedule can also help in managing this.

Hormonal Triggers

Changes in hormone levels, particularly in women, can trigger IBS symptoms. This includes times during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, stress and anxiety, and hormone therapy. During these times, your hormones will fluctuate and have been shown to lead to IBS flare-ups. Physical activity and lifestyle changes may assist in managing these triggers.

 

3. IBS Symptoms Come And Go In Waves

IBS is characterised by symptoms that often fluctuate, with periods of exacerbation and relief. This unpredictable pattern can be frustrating and confusing for those with chronic conditions. Unlike inflammatory bowel disease, which can cause lasting damage to the small intestine, the symptoms of IBS may come and go in waves, worsening or improving over several days or weeks.

Understanding The Waves Or Cycles Of IBS

Understanding the waves or cycles of IBS symptoms can help manage the condition more effectively. Here’s what you may experience:

Worsening Phase: During this phase, symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, or constipation might become more pronounced. This flare-up could be related to certain trigger foods, food intolerances, or stress, leading to increased IBS pain and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Stabilisation Phase: Following a worsening phase, symptoms may level off but persist, often requiring careful management. Working with a healthcare provider can help treat IBS symptoms and maintain digestive health during this time.

Improvement Phase: With appropriate care, dietary changes, including a gluten-free diet, and possibly medication like probiotic supplements or tricyclic antidepressants, symptoms may improve, leading to a period of relief. Understanding how long an IBS attack lasts can be essential in managing these cycles.

4. Flare-Ups Can Be Treated By Medication

IBS flare-ups can cause significant discomfort and distress. However, various medications can alleviate these symptoms, making the condition more manageable. Here’s an in-depth look at the types of medications commonly used to treat IBS flare-ups:

Antispasmodics

Antispasmodic medications work by relaxing the muscles in the gut, reducing painful cramping and spasms that often accompany an IBS flare-up. These medications can be particularly effective in relieving symptoms like abdominal cramping and are generally taken before meals. 

Antispasmodics available over the counter are mild, which might provide quicker relief. For those with a stronger effect or larger doses will require a prescription.

Laxatives

For those suffering from IBS with predominant constipation (IBS-C), laxatives can ease bowel movements. They work by softening the stools or stimulating the muscles in the intestines. 

It’s vital to consult a healthcare provider to find the right type and dosage, as overuse can lead to dependency and loose bowel movements. Soluble fibre supplements can also be a gentle approach to reducing constipation.

Antidiarrheals

Antidiarrheal medications can be crucial for those with diarrhoea-predominant IBS (IBS-D). These drugs slow down the movement of the gut, allowing more water to be absorbed from the stools, thereby reducing the frequency and urgency of bowel movements. It can significantly reduce symptoms and provide control over sudden flare-ups.

Antidepressants

Though primarily used to treat depression, certain antidepressants, like tricyclic antidepressants, have proven effective in managing IBS symptoms. 

Low doses can help modulate pain signals from the gut to the brain, thereby reducing the perception of pain and discomfort. .

Probiotics

Probiotics can be taken as supplements to help maintain healthy gut flora. While research on their effectiveness in treating IBS is ongoing, some individuals find relief from symptoms by incorporating probiotics into their daily routine.

Remember, always consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medication. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should not be relied upon as such.

 

Conclusion On How Long Does An IBS Flare-Up Last

Living with IBS presents unique challenges, but understanding the nature of the condition and how to manage flare-ups can significantly improve quality of life. Recognising the symptoms and triggers and having a tailored treatment plan in place are key steps towards gaining control over IBS. 

Remember, IBS is highly individualised, and what works for one person may not work for another. By working closely with healthcare providers and making mindful choices in diet and lifestyle, managing this chronic condition becomes an achievable goal. 

Explore the strategies outlined in this blog, stay informed, and seek professional guidance as needed. Living with IBS doesn’t have to mean living in discomfort; with the right approach, relief is within reach.

If you are having issues with your digestive tract, engage with DR. Leong and, with his multitude of expertise, gain the answers to your digestive issues.

 

Frequently Asked Questions On How Long Does An IBS Flare-up Last

How Can I Identify Whether I Have IBS Or Another Digestive Disorder?

IBS has symptoms that can be similar to other digestive disorders. Diagnosis typically involves a detailed medical history, physical examination, and possibly some diagnostic tests. Consulting with a healthcare provider is crucial for an accurate diagnosis.

Is There A Cure For IBS?

Currently, there is no cure for IBS. Still, lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and medications can usually manage the symptoms. Treatment is often tailored to the individual’s specific symptoms and needs.

When Should I See A Doctor For My IBS Symptoms?

You should see a doctor if you experience persistent or severe IBS symptoms if your symptoms change suddenly, or if you have concerns about your digestive health. A healthcare provider can help diagnose and manage your condition.

How Is IBS Diagnosed?

IBS is typically diagnosed based on a healthcare provider’s evaluation of symptoms, medical history, and the exclusion of other gastrointestinal conditions through blood tests, stool tests, and colonoscopy.

Can IBS Lead To Serious Health Complications?

IBS is considered a functional gastrointestinal disorder and does not typically lead to serious health complications or increase the risk of other diseases. However, it can significantly impact a person’s quality of life.