What is an IBS Attack?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2019
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An irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) attack is a period of extreme gastrointestinal discomfort caused by inadequate digestion. People with irritable bowel syndrome experience pain and discomfort that may be relieved by defecating in some cases, and in other cases may be associated with constipation or diarrhea until the attack passes. There are treatments available to manage IBS and reduce the frequency and severity of attacks, but ultimately, even people in treatment can experience an IBS attack and cannot control when the attack happens and how long it lasts.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a type of functional gastrointestinal disorder. Scoping of the intestines, biopsy samples, and other diagnostic screenings reveal nothing physically wrong with the gastrointestinal tract. Instead, there is a problem with the function of the gastrointestinal tract, characterized by irregularities in contractions of the bowel. This causes foods to move more slowly or quickly than they should, causing pain and discomfort until they are eliminated.


People can experience an IBS attack in response to trigger foods, stress, medications, exercise, and a wide variety of other events. During an attack, people can feel nauseous and may vomit. Pain levels are typically high and the patient can have an urge to defecate. For some patients, loss of bowel control can occur. Even after defecating, the patient may still feel like the bowels are full. Bloating can add to the discomfort and many patients develop headaches. Sometimes, an IBS attack can cause a patient to engage in self harming behavior like clawing at the abdomen in an attempt to get the pain to stop.

Treatment of irritable bowel disease can be approached from several perspectives. Dietary modifications are often recommended to eliminate trigger foods and make attacks less common. Some patients are sensitive to dairy products, spicy foods, or fatty foods, for example. Cutting out foods known to cause gas and bloating can also be beneficial. Medications and therapy to manage stress can be helpful for people who experience IBS attacks because of stress-related problems.

An IBS attack can be embarrassing, as well as uncomfortable. Some patients do not seek treatment, even after a severe IBS attack, because they afraid to discuss symptoms with a doctor or they think there is nothing that can be done. It is important to be medically evaluated for gastrointestinal symptoms. Patients who are nervous about going to the doctor might want to look at IBS forums to see if there is a doctor other patients recommend.


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Post 3

I have IBS and was diagnosed in 2011 but am still struggling. I had an attack and threw up my food and it was undigested. (It came out raw but chewed). I am really worried and a bit scared.

Post 2

I have IBS and I get diarrhea, pain and some vomiting. It's been going on for the last two weeks. When will this go away?

Post 1

I am 43 and have suffered IBS for 15 years now. It makes me really unhappy and causes so much stress which makes me feel even worse. My symptoms are bloating, constipation, diarrhea and severe pain. I find that when I cannot pass wind the pain is really bad. I am really suffering at the moment, stressed and feel very unhappy. Please IBS, go away.

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