IBS Flare-Up or High Altitude Sickness? | IrritableBowelSyndrome.net (2023)

IBS Flare-Up or High Altitude Sickness? | IrritableBowelSyndrome.net (1)

By Lisa Carr

3 min read

Last updated: January 2023

Every winter break, my husband and I head for the hills. Nice, forested, rolling hills draped with snow. We love cross-country skiing in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver, in Vermont, or near Lake Tahoe in Northern California. We’ve been doing it for 5 years now.


But it hasn’t always been a walk in the national park for me. On many of these trips, my IBS symptoms make some noise. Usually it’s a grumbly tummy, bloating and constipation. I have IBS-A, so these are pretty common issues for me. Less common is constant farting! It’s like, where is all this gas coming from? Good thing my husband and I have been together three decades, so we accept that farts happen…!

This year, though, it was particularly irksome. So, I turned to Google to search on “constant farting.” Of course, Google picked up on my location – and served up articles on digestive problems and altitude sickness.

To quote Gru from “Despicable Me” (one of our favorite movies): LIGHT BULB.

High altitude sickness and IBS

Just about everywhere we go to cross-country ski is at high altitude: This year, we’ve been in a part of Colorado at more than 8,600 ft. in elevation (Note: I’m using “altitude” and “elevation” interchangeably, although to people like pilots, the words mean different things).

When you say altitude sickness, most people – including me – think of headache, shortness of breath, maybe some nausea or vomiting. I learned, though, that high altitude can also aggravate diarrhea or constipation, and cause “intestinal gas” – i.e., bloating and increased farts. There’s actually a cute name for it: locals call it the “’tude toots.”

From what I understand, it’s about physics: As you go up in elevation, atmospheric pressure decreases. So, air can expand. The example I read explains it this way:

Think of the highest place on Earth—Mt. Everest. The atmospheric pressure at the Mt. Everest base camp (just halfway up the mountain!) at ~15,000 ft is half that of sea level. Dallas, where I live, is just 400 ft above sea level, to put it in perspective.

If I filled a balloon with 1 liter of air in Dallas and took it up to the Mt. Everest base camp, the balloon would expand to 2 liters in size.

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Now imagine that same thing happening with the air in your gut – this is the main reason we feel bloated at high altitude, and our body is trying to release that pressure via any means necessary…!

What were my coping strategies?


It’s easy to get dehydrated at altitude, and dehydration just makes constipation worse. Plus, I was very active, exercising for 2.5-3 hours a day. So, I carried and drank water with dissolved Nuun electrolyte tabs OR Vitamin C supplements all the time. I admit that I drank a lot of Diet Coke, too; it’s not at all hydrating, but caffeine helps rev me up in the morning (and sometimes helps with my constipation, too).

Avoiding fatty foods

OK, well, this was hit or miss. Fatty foods can sometimes be an IBS trigger for me. But when I’ve been out cross-country skiing at 8,600 ft and 13o F, I don’t exactly crave salads afterwards. My body wants nutrient-dense foods like stews, pizza and pasta. I had bangers and mash (an English pub dish of sausages and mashed potatoes) one night and, while it really hit the spot at the time, the next morning I felt like a big bloated sausage myself!


This is a challenge when you’re craving meat, not veggies, as noted above. My compromise: whole fruit. In addition to my normal regimen of fiber supplements, I ate at least one apple a day. Now, apples bother some people’s guts, but I can handle Granny Smiths pretty well. Plus, we ate steel-cut oatmeal every morning for breakfast. And we did have an occasional salad with dinner.

These strategies helped but didn’t completely solve everything. My jeans were uncomfortably tight, and there were definitely evenings when I broke a sweat trying to pass rabbit pellets! But just having a reason behind the symptoms helped me relax about it – these weren’t really flare-ups. Mountains just gas me up!

Do you have IBS and live at a high elevation? What’s your experience?

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Does high altitude make IBS worse? ›

High altitude=decreased atmospheric pressure. Intestinal gas expands worsening bloating in #IBS and #SIBO. More symptoms. That's why plane-rides are killer for IBS!

Can high altitude cause digestive problems? ›

Gastrointestinal (GI) problems at high altitude are commonplace. The manifestations differ considerably in short-term visitors, long-term residents and native highlanders. Ethnic food habits and social norms also play a role in causing GI dysfuntion.

Does altitude affect intestinal gas? ›

Perhaps the lower concentration of oxygen at altitude affects the bowels' ability to move digested food, Dr. Auerbach theorized, giving it more time to create gas.

Does higher altitude make you gassy? ›

High-altitude flatus expulsion (HAFE) is a gastrointestinal syndrome which involves the spontaneous passage of increased quantities of rectal gases at high altitudes.

Why does IBS flare up when traveling? ›

It's no secret that stress directly impacts our health – and IBS is no different. Elevated stress levels can cause IBS symptoms to flare up, so work ahead to eliminate the most frustrating aspects of traveling: Book a cruise to streamline the process – lodging, food and activity, all in one!

Can travel cause an IBS flare up? ›

“Travel can be very disruptive for people with IBS for several reasons,” says Benjamin Lebwohl, MD, a gastroenterologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “First of all, the stress associated with catching with your flight and getting to the hotel can make your symptoms worse.

Does altitude affect IBD? ›

Overall, IBD patients experiencing flare-up episodes had more frequently traveled to regions lying at an altitude of > 2000 m above the sea level when compared to IBD patients in remission (13/52 vs. 4/51, p = 0.019) (Fig. 3).

Does altitude make it hard to poop? ›

Because you are prone to dehydration and constipation at altitude, drink lots of water and don't overeat. Get plenty of sleep. Overexertion and lack of sleep can result in more severe and persistent altitude symptoms. Listen to your body.

Does high altitude increase inflammation? ›

High altitude hypoxia is known to induce an inflammatory response in immune cells. Hypoxia induced inflammatory chemokines may contribute to the development of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) by causing damage to the lung endothelial cells and thereby capillary leakage.

Why do I poop more at high altitude? ›

There is lower atmospheric pressure at higher altitudes. Something known as the ideal gas law explains why the same mass of gas expands and takes up more space in your bowels. The greater the volume of gas building up in your belly, the more likely you are to pass it.

Can high altitude cause gastritis? ›

High altitude associated dyspepsia is a common phenomenon and some studies done in high altitude population have recorded high incidence of antral gastritis and mucosal atrophy on histo-pathological evaluation. This is also supported by high incidence of H. pylori infection.

Why am I so bloated at high altitude? ›

Cabin pressure.

If the pressure around it decreases, the balloon expands. The same thing happens to your stomach while flying. The cabin pressure decreases as you gain elevation and the gas in your stomach expands.

Is diarrhea a symptom of altitude sickness? ›

The phrase “altitude sickness” is an umbrella term for several varieties of illness. The root cause is the same, however: lack of oxygen at high elevations. The symptoms vary, but can include headache, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, all of which can last anywhere from 12 hours to four days.

What helps with altitude bloating? ›

Drink twice as much water

High-altitude areas have low humidity which keeps the air dry, so you should drink twice as much water as you're used to, Dr. Choi says. Also, eat more carbohydrates. Carbs can reduce acute mountain sickness because they require less oxygen than fats for digestion.

How long does it take for your body to adjust to high altitude? ›

This process is known as acclimatization and generally takes 1-3 days at that altitude. For example, if you hike to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and spend several days at that altitude, your body acclimatizes to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).

How do you calm an IBS flare up? ›

How to Calm an IBS Flare Up
  1. Apply Gentle Heat. ...
  2. Get Moving. ...
  3. Stay Away From Trigger Foods. ...
  4. Have a Soothing, Non-Caffeinated Tea. ...
  5. Dial Down Your Stress Levels. ...
  6. Try a Relaxation Technique.

What is the biggest trigger for IBS? ›

Here is a list of the most common triggers.
  • Foods with High or Moderate Amounts of Insoluble Fiber. ...
  • Gluten or wheat. ...
  • Refined or Processed Foods. ...
  • Cruciferious Veggies. ...
  • Allium Vegetables. ...
  • Beans and lentils. ...
  • Fatty Foods. ...
  • Dairy.

How long should an IBS flare up last? ›

IBS flare up duration is different for everyone. Most people's IBS symptoms will flare-up for 2-4 days, after which your symptoms may lower in severity or disappear completely. Many people experience IBS in waves, in which symptoms may come and go over several days or weeks.

How do you know if your IBS flare up? ›

stomach pain or cramps – usually worse after eating and better after doing a poo. bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen. diarrhoea – you may have watery poo and sometimes need to poo suddenly. constipation – you may strain when pooing and feel like you cannot empty your bowels fully.

Why am I suddenly getting IBS? ›

The reasons why IBS develops are not clear. It can occur after a bacterial infection or a parasitic infection (giardiasis) of the intestines. This is called postinfectious IBS. There may also be other triggers, including stress.

Can IBS be triggered suddenly? ›

The simple answer is Yes. Like any medical condition, IBS has to start at some point-one day you have normal bowel movements and the next day you start to notice changes. Maybe you start having diarrhea and gas or constipation and bloating. After a few days, you still have symptoms.

What can trigger an IBD flare? ›

Common culprits include greasy or fried items, caffeine, alcohol, carbonation, spicy foods, raw vegetables, and some high-fiber foods like nuts, seeds, corn, or popcorn.

How long does a IBD flare-up last? ›

A flare-up is the reappearance of disease symptoms. And for people living with ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), flare-ups can be unpredictable, lasting hours, days, or weeks.

What to avoid during IBD flare-up? ›

Foods to Avoid with IBD
  • Fatty, greasy or fried foods.
  • Hot or spicy foods.
  • Raw, high-fiber fruits and vegetables.
  • Nuts, seeds and beans.
  • Caffeinated or sugary beverages.
  • Alcoholic beverages.
  • Candy, sweets and other sources of added sugar.
Sep 4, 2020

Why can't I poop when traveling? ›

Movement stimulates the gut, so sitting on a plane or in a car for long periods of time can cause the intestines to clog; ignoring the urge to go while in the air or on the road can also make it more difficult once you finally sit down on the toilet.

What is the fastest way to adjust to altitude sickness? ›

Treating altitude sickness
  1. stop and rest where you are.
  2. do not go any higher for at least 24 to 48 hours.
  3. if you have a headache, take ibuprofen or paracetamol.
  4. if you feel sick, take an anti-sickness medicine, such as promethazine.
  5. make sure you're drinking enough water.
  6. do not smoke, drink alcohol, or exercise.

What are 3 effects of being at altitude? ›

People who spend too much time in high-altitude locations risk more serious symptoms of altitude sickness. These may range from headaches and dizziness to much more serious consequences, such as brain or lung damage. Above about 8,000 meters (26,000 feet), the human body cannot survive at all, and starts to shut down.

Is ibuprofen good for high altitude? ›

Altitude sickness can occur when the body isn't able to cope with the drops in air pressure and oxygen levels. Ibuprofen helps relieve the swelling and inflammation triggered at higher elevations. It's rapidly absorbed and cheaper than some prescription drugs.

Does ibuprofen help with altitude? ›

Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory medication often used as a painkiller, was found to significantly reduce the incidence of altitude sickness in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 86 men and women, according to the study, published online March 20 in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

What are the symptoms of high altitude hypoxia? ›

HAPE symptoms are dyspnea at rest and especially when attempting to exercise, bothersome cough, weakness, and chest tightness. The signs include central cyanosis, frothy sputum, and crackles/wheezing in at least one lung field, tachypnea and tachycardia.

Is inflammation worse at high altitude? ›

High altitude hypoxia is known to induce an inflammatory response in immune cells. Hypoxia induced inflammatory chemokines may contribute to the development of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) by causing damage to the lung endothelial cells and thereby capillary leakage.

How do you calm an IBD flare-up? ›

Try these five tips:
  1. Skip the dairy aisle. There's no firm evidence that diet causes ulcerative colitis. ...
  2. Say no to fiber if it's a problem food. ...
  3. Eat small meals. ...
  4. Be smart about beverages. ...
  5. Manage stress.

Who should avoid high altitudes? ›

Travelers with medical conditions such as heart failure, myocardial ischemia (angina), sickle cell disease, any form of pulmonary insufficiency or preexisting hypoxemia, or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) should consult a physician familiar with high-altitude medical issues before undertaking such travel (Table 3-05).

What puts someone at more risk for high altitude illness? ›

Risk factors include home elevation, maximum altitude, sleeping altitude, rate of ascent, latitude, age, gender, physical condition, intensity of exercise, pre-acclimatization, genetic make-up, and pre-existing diseases.

How do I stop bloating from altitude? ›

Drink twice as much water

High-altitude areas have low humidity which keeps the air dry, so you should drink twice as much water as you're used to, Dr. Choi says. Also, eat more carbohydrates. Carbs can reduce acute mountain sickness because they require less oxygen than fats for digestion.

Why do I gain weight at higher altitude? ›

However, water retention at altitude may also contribute to hyperhydration and weight gain, at least during the first days at altitude (Gatterer et al., 2013).


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