Irritable bowel syndrome? These five foods can make it worse

Symptoms, treatment and self-help tips to try

Portrait of young woman suffering from stomach ache. Studio shot, grey background.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is believed to affect 10-20% of the UK population at any one time. Women are more likely to suffer with the digestive problem than men, and it usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 30. Read on to discover the main symptoms and lifestyle changes that can help.

See also: Could you have a wheat intolerance?

See also: Do you suffer from bloating? Here are five foods to avoid

Symptoms of IBS
Stomach ache, bloating, wind and stomach cramps, are the most common symptom of IBS. Symptoms are often made worse by eating and can result in constipation, diarrhoea or both. Other symptoms include passing mucus, nausea and vomiting.

IBS is a chronic condition and you may find that symptoms fluctuate – there may be times when it flares up, and times when you experience no symptoms at all.

Although IBS poses no immediate danger to health, some people experience severe pain and are prone to stress and depression.

Foods to avoid

1). High "fodmap" foods
Fodmap foods (fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) are carbohydrates and sugars that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. They include garlic, onion, wheat, milk, ice cream, mushrooms, apricots, peas and beans. Studies suggest that following a low fodmap diet improves the symptoms of people with IBS in around 70% of cases. If you're considering eliminating certain foods from your diet, it's best to consult a registered dietitian first.

2). Alcohol
Alcohol irritates the gut and is known to make IBS symptoms worse. Steer clear of rum, sweet wines and fruit cocktails, as these are also high in FODMAPs.

3). High-fat foods
Studies show that people with IBS have increased gut sensitivity after eating a high-fat meal. Cut back on saturated fats, found in things like chips, sausages, cheese, and crisps, and opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish.

4). Caffeine
Caffeine is also known to make symptoms worse, so watch your coffee habit - as well as caffeine you have in tea, soft drinks and chocolate.

5). Spicy food
Chilli and spicy foods are one of the worst triggers for IBS. If you notice your symptoms are worse after a hot curry, its best to avoid them or have a korma instead.

Other lifestyle changes
Try to eat smaller meals and drink plenty of fluids (but no more than three cups of tea or coffee a day).

If you have constipation eating more soluble fibre can help - things like oats, barley, root vegetables and fruit. If you suffer with diarrhoea, eating more insoluble fibre is advised - so you'll be stocking up on wholegrain bread, nuts, seeds, bran and cereals.

It can be useful to keep a food diary to keep track of which foods aggravate your condition. Some people find probiotic dietary supplements help, but there is no firm medical evidence for this. As stress is a trigger for many people, taking time out to relax and exercise is advised.

Medical treatment
If you find that lifestyle changes aren't helping, your doctor may be able to prescribe medicines to help, such an anti-diarrhoea treatments and laxatives. Anti-spasmodic medication can be prescribed to deal with abdominal pain and cramps – as can anti-depressants (visit the NHS for more information).

If you have had IBS for more than 12 months, your GP may refer you for psychological therapies, which have been shown to be effective.