Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 02 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Adrian Bonsall, 02 Jul 2017

What are the treatments for irritable bowel syndrome?

Many people with mild irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms don't need any treatment. There are many different treatments that may be tried for IBS. All will have an effect on some people, but none will help in every person with IBS. No treatment is likely to take away symptoms completely; however, treatment can often ease symptoms and improve your quality of life.

What lifestyle changes can help?

  • Exercise. Regular exercise is known to help to ease symptoms.
  • Managing stress levels. Stress and other emotional factors may trigger symptoms in some people. So, anything that can reduce your level of stress or emotional upset may help.
  • Keeping a symptom diary. It may help to keep a food and lifestyle diary for 2-4 weeks to monitor symptoms and activities. Note everything that you eat and drink, times that you were stressed, and when you took any formal exercise. This may identify triggers, such as a food, alcohol, or emotional stresses, and may show if exercise helps to ease or to prevent symptoms.

What dietary changes can help?

Some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find that certain foods can trigger symptoms or make symptoms worse. See separate leaflet called Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet Sheet for more details.

What medicines may help treat irritable bowel syndrome?

Medications

Antispasmodic medicines for tummy (abdominal) pain
These are medicines that relax the muscles in the wall of the gut. There are several types of antispasmodics. For example, mebeverine, hyoscine and peppermint oil. The pain may ease with medication but may not go away completely.

Treating constipation
Constipation is sometimes a main symptom of IBS. If so, it may help if you increase the fibre in your diet. Sometimes laxatives are advised for short periods if increasing fibre is not enough to ease a troublesome bout of constipation. It is best to avoid lactulose if you have IBS.

A medicine called linaclotide works in a completely different way to other medicines for treating constipation. It has been shown to reduce pain, bloating and constipation symptoms.

Treating diarrhoea
An antidiarrhoeal medicine (for example, loperamide) may be useful if diarrhoea is a main symptom. The dose of loperamide needed to control diarrhoea varies considerably.

Treating bloating
Peppermint oil may help with bloating and wind. For some people peppermint oil also helps with tummy pains and spasms.

Antidepressant medicines
A tricyclic antidepressant is sometimes used to treat IBS. An example is amitriptyline. Tricyclic antidepressants are used in a variety of painful conditions, including IBS. SSRI antidepressant medicines (for example, fluoxetine) can also be used for IBS. They may work by affecting the way you feel pain.

What else might help with treating irritable bowel syndrome?

Psychological therapies

Any stressful situation (for example, family problems, work stress, examinations) may trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in some people. Examples of psychological therapies are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. Psychological therapies can be very effective for some people with IBS.

Further reading and references

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