Can IBS symptoms last for weeks? How long do they last?
IBS symptoms can reduce the quality of life. Learn how long your symptoms can last and how to manage them so you can carry on with your daily activities without interference.
- How long IBS symptoms last varies from person to person. With mild to moderate IBS, symptoms can last less than 10 days. But, for some people, it can last more than 10 days.
- IBS flare-ups are best managed by making dietary and lifestyle changes and using medications.
- See your doctor when IBS symptoms get intense such that it interrupts your daily activities.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a collection of gastrointestinal tract symptoms. This disorder is globally common and affects about 1 in 10 people. However, severe symptoms only affect a few people with IBS.
The symptoms of IBS include constipation, diarrhea, abdominal discomforts, and bowel movements, and how long these symptoms last varies from person to person, depending on how they treat and manage it.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
The two most prevalent symptoms of IBS are diarrhea and constipation, and the subtypes of this health condition; IBS-D, IBS-C, and IBS-M, are classified by these symptoms. An article published in Lancet shows that IBS-D is the most common IBS subtype.
People with IBS will also experience the following symptoms in addition to diarrhea and constipation:
- Abdominal pain
- An alternation between diarrhea and constipation
- Unusual bowel movements
- Loss of energy
How long do IBS symptoms last?
How long IBS symptoms last varies across different people. A recent 2020 study shows that people with severe IBS may experience intense abdominal pain and severe diarrhea for more than 10 days a month, while mild to moderate symptoms can last from 1 to 9 days.
Some IBS patients have ongoing symptoms frequently, while others go long periods without experiencing these symptoms. When the symptoms recur after a brief or long recovery period, it is called a flare-up.
If the symptoms of IBS recur after disappearing for a while, there may be reasons for this. Eating foods that are not easily digested by your gut, experiencing extreme stress, and developing a gastrointestinal infection can trigger IBS flare-ups, causing recurrence.
What causes IBS
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. But, researchers know some factors that may be linked to this condition, such as:
Older studies have linked high levels of stress and mental health trauma with IBS. An article published in 2014 showed that childhood trauma alters the connection between the brain and the digestive system, which can contribute to developing IBS.
Mental health disorders like anxiety and depression may also contribute to developing IBS as they also affect the brain and digestive system connection.
The gut microbiota is a collection of trillions of microorganisms that reside in the gut. These microorganisms help with digestion, strengthen the biochemical barrier of the intestine, and assist in some immune functions.
A 2017 study indicated that taking antibiotic medications frequently may reduce the population of the intestinal microbes. This can impair digestive tract functioning and may lead to IBS.
Tips on how to manage IBS flare-ups
IBS flare-ups occur from time to time. The best way to manage them is to identify what triggers them and find out how to stop their occurrence.
While no one strategy works for people with IBS, it may help to document lifestyle, dietary, and behavioral triggers and experiment with solutions with the help of a medical professional to find what works to keep these symptoms at bay.
- Low FODMAP diet: FODMAP stands for fermented oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These carbohydrates cause digestive system disturbances and can trigger IBS symptoms because they are hard to digest. A high FODMAP diet could include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, apples, cherries, sorbitol sweetener, and beans.
- Fibre foods: Certain insoluble fiber-rich foods such as seeds and quinoa are good for the digestive tract. But, the amount you should eat will often depend on your symptoms. If the prevalent symptom is diarrhea, you may need to reduce your fiber intake. However, if constipation is the prevalent symptom, it may be best to consume more non-fermentable and insoluble fiber-rich foods.
- Drink more water to make your poop softer.
- Avoid processed, spicy, and fatty foods as they increase the symptoms of IBS.
- Limit the consumption of beverages like coffee or tea.
- Exercising may help. A recent 2017 research shows that IBS is more frequent in obese people. This does not mean obesity causes IBS, but it may mean weight is a risk factor that can contribute to IBS development.
- Practice deep breathing and yoga to manage stress and improve the symptoms of IBS.
- Avoiding consuming alcohol and carbonated drinks
- Speak to your doctor about trying hypnosis. An article published by Cell shows that hypnotherapy reduces depression and anxiety, which contributes to the symptoms of IBS.
- Probiotics: Probiotics contain bacteria that help maintain a balance of microbes in your gut. They may help reduce the symptoms of IBS.
- Antispasmodic, to reduce cramping
- Laxatives, to reduce constipation
- Loperamide, to treat diarrhea
A study published in 2018 evaluated the lives of IBS patients over 5 years and used questionnaires as a primary follow-up method to determine their quality of life. The participants of this study were classified according to the severity of their symptoms before flare-ups. Fifty-nine participants experienced mild symptoms, 119 participants had moderate symptoms, while 36 participants had severe symptoms.
The study further revealed that patients with very severe IBS symptoms before flare-ups did not experience improvements in their symptoms, while IBS patients with low to moderate symptom severity experienced significant improvements.
Lastly, IBS patients with severe symptoms before flare-ups had low performance scores on overall psychological health, and they were more sensitive to discomfort in their lower digestive tract.
When to seek medical attention for IBS
IBS symptoms are characterized by constipation, diarrhea, and other abdominal discomforts. You should see your doctor when the intensity of these symptoms becomes severe to the point where it causes serious pain and interrupts your daily activities.
Here are some ways the symptoms of this disorder can worsen and cause you to seek further medical assistance.
Abdominal pain: Abdominal pain is a usual symptom of IBS, but when it occurs suddenly and with a high intensity that you would rate up to a 7 out of 10, you should seek medical attention. You will know your abdominal pain is severe when it worsens or makes it difficult for you to carry out daily tasks.
Diarrhea: When your diarrhea worsens, it indicates that you need to see a medical professional. This is usually characterized by more bowel movements, about three or more times a week.
Constipation: When constipation persists even after taking over-the-counter medication or when you experience abdominal pain and bowel movements alongside this symptom, you should see a doctor.
Making an appointment with your doctor is also crucial when you notice unusual symptoms. These unusual symptoms can be an indication of an underlying health issue. Here are some of these symptoms you should look out for.
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
- Feeling dizzy
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin or joint problems
- Blood in stool
- Weight loss
IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder that consists of a collection of abdominal symptoms. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, IBS can last for days, weeks, or even months. It is important to know that your diet and lifestyle can contribute to the improvement of IBS symptoms. If the symptoms get worse despite lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medication, you should speak with your doctor immediately.