January 12, 2021

Stomachaches? Avoid These 3 Mistakes if You Suspect IBS

Best advice from a GI expert

woman with stomach pain on coch

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be challenging to manage. No one knows exactly what causes the abdominal discomfort and pain.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

IBS triggers are not always consistent and can even vary for the same person. For instance, you may eat a salad one day and feel fine, but the next day, the greens can cause an attack. For another person, milk is an occasional culprit, says gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD.

Stress, anxiety, travel, new medications, and negative emotions also can make your IBS symptoms worse. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to relax, whether with yoga, relaxation techniques or meditation — or even by making more drastic life or job changes if needed.

So how do you know you have IBS?

Doctors diagnose IBS when someone has three or more bouts of unexplained abdominal discomfort and pain (such as bloating, cramping and diarrhea) for at least three months in a row with clear periods of no symptoms in between bouts. Your doctor may order a blood test, stool samples and a colonoscopy to exclude other possible diagnosis.

If you think you have IBS or you’re struggling to manage your condition, gastroenterologists can help you avoid common mistakes and find effective ways to manage your disease.

Common mistakes people with IBS make

1. Not seeking medical advice

You have chronic stomachaches, but you may figure there’s no reason to see a doctor.

They will say things like ‘that’s just my stomach’ or ‘everyone in my family has stomach issues.’ However, there are many strategies to deal with IBS, from medication, to diets, to behavior therapy.

2. Seeking unneeded testing and procedures

Some people think an IBS diagnosis only partially explains their stomach and abdominal aches. They worry that something more serious is going on.


However, unless symptoms change drastically or a person begins to lose weight, becomes malnourished or has other worrisome symptoms, additional testing usually isn’t unnecessary.

Patients often say, “I know something is inflamed in my GI tract” and they request repeated procedures. However, in IBS, there is no identifiable inflammation, unlike inflammatory bowel disease.

Rather than seeking various procedures, it’s better to focus on what is causing your symptoms.

Because IBS symptoms are sometimes all over the board — from constipation and diarrhea to gas and cramping — work closely with your doctor to find a treatment plan that addresses them.

“Find out what is causing the gas/abdominal bloating symptoms, then treat the root of the problem instead of just treating the symptom, such as treating gas by taking Gas-X,” she says.

3. Trying elimination diets without guidance

Elimination diets, done in consultation with a doctor, can sometimes help ease chronic pain associated with the neck and lower back, fibromyalgia and other chronic conditions. Foods typically eliminated include gluten, dairy, sugar and packaged and processed foods.

Be careful about “fad” diets or extreme or self-imposed elimination diets, which have not been shown to help those with IBS in the long term.


“In fact, some of these diets are so restrictive that it is very difficult to adhere to long term, and can actually cause insensitivities down the road, as well as vitamin and nutritional deficiencies,” says Dr. Lee.

If you do have IBS, the best diet to try is a low-FODMAP diet. FODMAPs — fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols saccharides — are carbohydrates that may not digest or absorb well in your intestines.

Following a low-FODMAP diet means limiting servings of milk (and other foods that contain lactose), fruits, broccoli (and other cruciferous vegetables) and legumes or beans.

“Some people will improve with certain diets, and a prime example is a low-FODMAP diet,” she says.

If that diet doesn’t work, try other healthy diets and find what works for you.

While researchers continue to search for a cure for IBS, these tips can help you manage your condition right now. If you continue to struggle, talk to your doctor.

Related Articles

Aspirin poured onto table from bottle
December 7, 2023
Why You Are Sensitive to Aspirin

A reaction to the medication may trigger preexisting asthma and result in sinus or skin reactions

Person lifting up their sweater, showing ostomy bag in mirror's reflection
December 6, 2023
Adjusting to Life With an Ostomy Bag: What To Expect

It can be hard to get used to the bags, but the freedom they provide is worth the challenge

Happy caucasian woman hiking in forest
December 6, 2023
Forest Bathing: What It Is and Its Potential Benefits

Immersing yourself in nature can improve both your mental and physical health

Woman looking in mirror and pulling skin until wrinkles disappear
December 6, 2023
Should You Add Collagen Supplements to Your Skin Care Routine?

Though popular with influencers and celebrities, there’s little research to back up claims that they work

A vaccine syringe in front of a passport for international travel.
December 5, 2023
Which Vaccines Are Required To Travel?

Plan early — getting the right vaccines can help you stay healthy on your travels

Person overheated lying on chair on the beach; heart rythym next to him
December 5, 2023
How the Heat Can Affect Your Heart

Sizzling temperatures force your heart to work much harder

nocovaine needle entering mouth with dental mirror
December 4, 2023
How Long Does Novocaine Last?

The numbness and tingling should wear off in about two hours

bearded man sitting crosslegged holding clock in one hand, calendar in other
December 4, 2023
Are Bare Minimum Mondays Good for Your Mental Health?

Rethinking your Mondays might make the ‘Sunday scaries’ a thing of the past

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try