How is IBS treated?
If a dietary cause is suspected, your doctor may be able to give you some advice on what to eat or may suggest that you see a nutritionist to identify foods that upset you. You may be asked to leave out particular foods from your diet, such as wheat, to see if that helps to alleviate your symptoms. Alternatively, you may be asked to try an “exclusion diet,” which involves excluding from your diet a number of different foods that commonly upset patients with IBS. If your symptoms improve, individual items can then be added back into your diet until the specific food or foods that seem to upset you are identified. If constipation is the main problem, then bulking agents such as natural bran fiber containing cereals, and products containing psyllium (Konsyl), polycarbophil (Fibercon), or methylcellulose (Citrucel) are helpful.

Drugs to reduce bowel spasm have been used for many years to treat IBS. They are generally very safe and often worth trying. Most are available without a prescription and your pharmacist can advise you. Unfortunately, they only benefit a relatively small number of patients. Lubiprostone (Amitiza) is a prescription drug available to treat IBS when constipation is the main symptom. Alosetron (Lotronex) is approved to treat IBS women with diarrhea-predominant IBS when other measures have failed to bring relief.

Self-help measures
A healthy lifestyle may improve symptoms. Pay particular care to your eating habits and develop a regular routine for emptying your bowels. You may find that particular foods trigger an attack of pain. Keeping a food diary together with a record of bowel symptoms may be helpful since you might be able to see whether there is a pattern. Foods that commonly cause upset include wheat products, dairy products, onions, nuts and caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee, tea and cola. Some patients cannot digest lactose (the sugar in milk) and so develop gas and diarrhea after eating large amounts of milk or dairy products.

Further information
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC): http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs/

Last Reviewed: May 2013