IBS can cause a number of different symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping, and gas. These symptoms can occur individually, together, or alternating. People whose primary IBS symptom is diarrhea — a sudden, urgent need to have a bowel movement that results in loose and watery stools — have what’s called diarrhea-predominant IBS, or IBS-D. Doctors don’t understand what causes diarrhea to occur in IBS patients, but some people notice that diarrhea strikes when they feel stressed or anxious. Others notice a pattern of diarrhea following certain foods.
Food and diarrhea. To figure out which foods might be causing your diarrhea, consider some common triggers — like dairy foods.
“Generally [IBS patients] need to see if there are any food triggers that aggravate diarrhea. Are they lactose-intolerant? If dairy products tend to aggravate or trigger their symptoms, they may have associated lactose intolerance, and so dairy products may need to be avoided,” suggests Norman Gilinsky, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati.
Stress and diarrhea. If you notice that your diarrhea episodes seem to always occur around stressful situations, perhaps the stress that your body feels is what’s triggering your gut to react.
“If they recognize certain stress situations will produce diarrhea — and we can’t avoid stress in what we do these days — it may be reasonable to take an Imodium ahead of time. If someone is going to take part in a meeting that may be stressful and knows that they are likely to have diarrhea and cramps, an anti-diarrheal ahead of time could be very useful,” recommends Dr. Gilinsky.
Managing IBS Diarrhea
Maybe your IBS symptoms are caused by food or stress, but maybe they’re not. No matter what the cause is, you have to find a way to manage your IBS and keep it from interrupting your life once, twice, or 10 times a day. Here are some suggestions to help you manage your diarrhea caused by IBS:
Take fiber. Fiber pill supplements or a powder mixture that contains psyllium (please see our fiber powders) can help some people with IBS control their diarrhea.
“Some individuals may use a fiber preparation, which some people find useful to bind and increase the bulk of the stool for those that have diarrhea,” recommends Gilinsky. He also notes that fiber is more likely to be effective in those who experience stress-related diarrhea.
Take an anti-diarrheal. Try taking an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication, like Imodium, as Gilinsky suggests. If you’ve got a situation coming up that you’re nervous about, try a dose of medication to see if it can settle your stomach.
Avoid trigger foods. If you notice that dairy products have you running to the bathroom, cut them out of your diet — particularly before an event or activity where you can’t be interrupted. Some other common triggers of diarrhea include fried and fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, and carbonated drinks.
Eat foods that can help solidify your stools. Include foods like bananas, rice, whole-wheat breads and other whole-grain products in your diet.
These “bulking” foods might help ease diarrhea if you eat them regularly.
Manage stress. Stress is impossible to avoid, but can be managed in a variety of ways. Exercise is a great stress reliever — particularly types that allow for focus and meditation, like yoga. Even just taking a walk, or going for a bike ride or a run, can help relax your mind and body. Deep-breathing techniques and meditation are also good methods of managing stress and promoting relaxation.
Try therapy. Hypnotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy have been shown to help some people manage diarrhea caused by IBS. These methods work on controlling fears and changing the way you think about your disease in order to prevent the body from responding with diarrhea.
Ask your doctor about medications. Anti-spasmodic medications, antidepressants, and other medications can offer some IBS patients relief from their diarrhea.
There are many different ways to try to control your diarrhea caused by IBS. It may take some time and a combination of methods to find what works for you, but keep trying. You don’t have to spend your life near a bathroom — you just have to figure out what works for your body.
By Diana Rodriguez from everydayhealth.com | Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD