What to Do for Loose Stools from IBS

What to Do for Loose Stools from IBS

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Loose stools are a primary IBS symptom for individuals who have diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D) and an intermittent symptom for those who have IBS-alternating type. Typically these loose stools are associated with abdominal pain during bowel movements, diarrhea urgency and, at its worst, bathroom accidents (fecal incontinence).

As of now, it is not known exactly why people with IBS experience a change in the speed and appearance of their bowel movements. What is known is that loose stools are the result of either bowel movements that are too fast, intestines that are secreting too much liquid, or food components who trigger a process of osmosis drawing too much water into the stool. As you work with your doctor to devise a management plan for your IBS symptoms, there are some self-care tweaks that you can try.

Note: The advice in this article is only for individuals who have a confirmed diagnosis of IBS. There are many health conditions that can cause loose stools. If you have not yet been seen by your doctor for loose stools lasting longer than two weeks, you need to tell your physician as soon as possible so as to obtain proper diagnosis and treatment.

Don't eat or drink foods with a reputation for contributing to loose stools.

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The following foods have a reputation for softening stool. Since none of them are essential for health, feel free to delete them from your diet.

  • Dairy products with higher lactose levels (milk, soft and processed cheeses)
  • Fat-free foods with olestra as an ingredient (ice cream, potato chips)
  • Sugar-free foods and chewing gums with artificial sweeteners that end in -ol
  • Caffeine-containing drinks (coffee, soda, tea)

Don't eat too many fruits at the same time.

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Fruits are a wonderful source of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, they also contain fructose and our bodies have a limited ability to absorb too much fructose at the same time. Too much fruit, too soon, means that excess fructose makes its way into the large intestine where it can draw excessive water into itself contributing to the looseness of your stools.

Don't take OTCs that contain magnesium.

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Magnesium has a well-established reputation for acting as a laxative. In fact, it is a primary ingredient in most prep formulations for colonoscopies.

Be careful that you are not taking in higher amounts of stool-loosening magnesium from an over-the-counter product without knowing. The following may include magnesium so read labels carefully:

  • Antacids
  • Multivitamins
  • Other vitamin formulations 

Do consider probiotics.

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Probiotics are bacterial strains that are thought to be beneficial to our digestive tracts. There is evidence that they promote a more favorable balance of your gut bacteria.

This beneficial effect on the bacteria within your intestines may help your body to establish improved motility and result in less intestinal gas, both of which can serve to slow down the fast speed of intestinal contractions that contributes to loose stools.

You can increase your intake of probiotics through probiotic supplement formulations or by eating fermented foods, such as yogurt or fresh sauerkraut.

Do ask your doctor about the possibility of a fiber supplement.

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Although typically recommended to ease constipation, fiber supplements (also known as bulk laxatives) draw water into the stool, helping to firm it up. Here are some choices:

  • Psyllium (Fiberall, Genfiber, Konsyl, Metamucil)
  • Calcium polycarbophil (Fibercon, Equalactin)
  • Methylcellulose (Citrucel)

Do your best to manage your stress.

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Stress has long been known to speed up intestinal movement due to the body's natural stress response. Reducing stress can help your body to establish a better rhythm, retaining stool longer to allow it to be firmed up as water is drawn out. Whenever possible, try to reduce the amount of stress in your life by avoiding demanding situations or individuals. When this is not possible, be sure to engage in activities that offset the effect that stress has on your body. Here are a few to consider:




"Diarrhea" The Merck Manual Website accessed July 21, 2014.

Palsson, O., et.al. "IBS Patients Show Frequent Fluctuations Between Loose/Watery and Hard/Lumpy Stools: Implications for Treatment" American Journal of Gastroenterology 2012:286-95.

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