This time of year can be particularly tricky for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). After all, the holidays usually involve get-togethers with dinners, desserts, and maybe even some wine. Unfortunately, the food and beverages that are often served aren’t gut-friendly. One wrong bite can leave you feeling miserable during what’s supposed to be the happiest time of year. But there are warning signs to keep an eye on. With that, let’s look at what the symptoms of an IBS flare look like during this season so that you can be prepared to protect your gut and your holiday joy.
What Are Common Symptoms of an IBS Flare?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract with painful and uncomfortable abdominal symptoms. Most commonly, people with IBS experience stomach pain that can feel sharp or like intense cramping. On top of the abdominal pain, IBS symptoms include:
- Pain with bowel movements
Symptoms of an IBS flare would be the same as those mentioned above, but they usually become more acutely or temporarily intense. This means that someone in an IBS flare might have a few days of bowel movements that aren’t typical—meaning they might be off in consistency or color. In addition to this, the abdominal pain during IBS flares often increases. This can make it challenging for people to do every-day activities, like walking around or eating as they normally would.
People with IBS might see white mucus or even spots of red blood in their stool during flares as well. For any changes in symptoms, especially during flares that involve intense pain, it’s essential to get checked out by a specialist to rule out any more serious conditions that would require urgent treatment.
Now, symptoms of an IBS flare during the holidays encompass what has already been described, but there are some other signs that could easily be missed. Many times during the holidays, people notice weight fluctuation, as they might introduce foods into their diets that they don’t typically consume, or at least not very often. But what they might not realize is that their clothes aren’t fitting the same because of stomach bloating, which is a warning sign of an IBS flare.
Moreover, feeling changes in appetite can be an indication of an IBS flare as well. That nausea you feel could be attributed to the sweets or the drinks at the work holiday party, but it could also be because the irritation in your gut is getting worse. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you can catch the symptoms of an IBS flare early, you might be able to avoid further harm.
What Are Some Holiday Trigger Foods?
Diet plays a key role in the management of IBS flares. This means avoiding your trigger foods. Everybody’s IBS trigger foods and beverages are different, but some common ones to keep an eye on would be:
- Coffee and tea
- Deep-fried foods
- Fruits high in fructose (pears, apples, etc.)
- Foods or drinks that contain dairy
These foods aren’t the source of IBS, but they can lead to irritation throughout the GI tract. The more the GI tract is irritated, the more IBS symptoms flare up. But it can be particularly hard to avoid these trigger foods during the holidays—and even harder to find something else to eat.
For these reasons, doctors may recommend that you follow a diet of low FODMAP foods. Following a diet of low FODMAP foods is the safest bet with IBS around the holidays and beyond. High FODMAP foods would be the ones listed above, and those are the ones to avoid. But low FODMAP foods can help to soothe the gut and keep you feeling good year round. Low FODMAP foods include:
- Chicken, turkey, and other easy-to-digest meats
- Sweet potatoes
- And others.
Some people with IBS go on an elimination diet in which they take out all major allergens and irritants from their food and drink sources (such as gluten, dairy, eggs, etc.). They let their bodies adjust to a very bland, safe diet before reintroducing foods one at a time. From there, they can better understand what they’re able to tolerate and what causes IBS symptoms to flare up.
How Else Do the Holidays Affect IBS?
It’s important to note that an IBS flare can be triggered by more than just food as well. In fact, research shows that stress can serve as an antagonist for this condition and make it more challenging to heal from the symptoms of an IBS flare. Of course, the holidays are also a driving source behind increased anxiety and depression.
There are many different reasons as to why it’s more challenging to manage stress, feelings of sadness, and other mental health symptoms during the holidays—from finances to social isolation and more. Having a chronic illness just adds to the complications of navigating this time of year. Regardless of the reason behind the anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms, the point stands that stress is something that needs to be well managed in order to avoid an unnecessary IBS flare up.
Some ways to manage stress include:
- Getting enough sleep
- Doing cognitive behavioral therapy
- Seeing a counselor
- Talking to others with IBS
- Having the right pain management plan
The symptoms of an IBS flare are always challenging to cope with and can lead to body-image concerns. Plus, not feeling good physically makes it harder to cope emotionally. Not to mention that turning down the feast that everyone else is eating can make you feel especially isolated. This is why having support during your IBS flare is essential in feeling and staying well.
If you feel your IBS starting to act up as the seasons change, be sure to reach out to others who understand through the Pain Resource Community. Even though you may feel as though you are on this journey alone, there are many other people out there who are experiencing similar struggles. Share your story, vent your frustrations, and find support within the chronic pain community this holiday season.
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