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IBS Causes: What are the most common triggers?

IBS Causes: What are the most common triggers?

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. This is a condition that causes abdominal pain and problems with bowel movements. Some people have frequent watery bowel movements (diarrhea), while others do not have enough bowel movements (constipation).

While most people with IBS don’t have serious problems with their condition, others suffer from more serious effects. Why is this the case, and what are the different possible IBS causes?

Signs of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: All You Need to Know

IBS causes: Why do people develop IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome primarily affects a person’s lower GI or gastrointestinal tract. This means that both the large intestine and small intestine are affected when a person has IBS.

For the most part, scientists still are not quite sure what causes IBS. It is believed, however, that a combination of different factors can contribute to IBS, such as the following:


Severe gastroenteritis can sometimes cause bowel symptoms similar to IBS. But in some cases, even after a person has already recovered, they might still experience persisting symptoms.

The exact reason why this happens is still unknown, but scientists believe that it might have something to do with changes that happen in the bowels. It could either be from nerve changes that happened because of severe infection or perhaps the balance of gut bacteria might have changed because of gastroenteritis. In particular, about 25% of IBS cases might be the result of a severe infection.


Stress does not only affect our mental health but our physical health as well. The ENS, or enteric nervous system, is a part of the nervous system embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. It is also known as the “second brain” by scientists. The primary role of the ENS is to manage digestion, but since it is part of the nervous system, it is possible that changes in the brain can affect how it functions.

If you’ve ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach or found yourself wanting to use the bathroom when you’re nervous, anxious, or upset, that’s the connection between your brain and your gut at work. Sometimes, this stress causes vigorous contractions of the intestines causing severe intestinal cramps (aka spastic bowels).

It is possible that too much stress can affect how the gut functions, and might result in irritable bowel syndrome.

People with IBS that’s caused by stress need to be mindful of their emotions and stress levels in order to avoid exasperating their condition.

Food intolerance

IBS can also be triggered by food intolerance. Food intolerances are common in people with IBS, raising the possibility that IBS is caused by food sensitivity or food allergy.

One of the most common types is lactose intolerance, or when a person’s stomach is unable to properly digest lactose, which is a type of sugar usually found in milk and milk products. Aside from lactose, fructose and sorbitol are also sugars that can potentially trigger IBS.

Foods that can increase intestinal gas, such as legumes, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, can also trigger IBS or worsen IBS by causing cramps.

For people with IBS triggered by food intolerance, the best way to manage their condition would be to avoid trigger foods entirely.


One possible reason why people experience IBS is that they might have a low-fiber diet. Fiber is important because it helps clean the gut, and it also keeps bowel movements regular. People who have IBS triggered by low fiber usually experience stomachaches, stomach cramps, as well as constipation.

Eating spicy foods or sweet foods are also viewed as possible trigger foods for IBS. People with sensitive stomachs should try their best to avoid these types of foods in order to prevent the symptoms of IBS from occurring.

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IBS Treatment Methods

When it comes to treatment, there are a number of options available for people with IBS.

The most common solution would be a change in diet. This means eating more dietary fiber, as well as avoiding foods that trigger IBS such as gluten, milk products, or spicy foods. Taking medication can also help, especially for people who experience more serious symptoms.

For people with IBS triggered by stress, taking some time to relax can help lessen the frequency of symptoms. Some may benefit from formal counseling / psychosocial therapies, while others may benefit from anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications.

Key Takeaways

When it comes to IBS, the most important thing would be to know what triggers your condition. This way, you can take the necessary steps to avoid those particular IBS causes and keep your condition under control.

Learn more about Digestive Health here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – Better Health Channel, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs, Accessed November 9, 2020

The Brain-Gut Connection | Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection, Accessed November 9, 2020

Symptoms & Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome | NIDDK, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes, Accessed November 9, 2020

What Causes IBS?, https://www.aboutibs.org/what-is-ibs-sidenav/what-causes-ibs.html, Accessed November 9, 2020

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) | NIDDK, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome, Accessed November 9, 2020

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/#:~:text=There’s%20no%20cure%2C%20but%20diet,a%20family%20history%20of%20IBS., Accessed November 9, 2020


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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jun 08
Medically reviewed by Mike-Kenneth Go Doratan, M.D.