Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment

Uncomfortable or painful abdominal symptoms may be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. IBS symptoms can include bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea

IBS Treatment

Uncomfortable or painful abdominal symptoms may be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. IBS symptoms can include bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. IBS does not harm the digestive system or increase the risk of colon cancer. But changing your food and way of living can frequently help you control your symptoms.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the digestive system, also called the gastrointestinal tract. It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These tend to come and go over time, and can last for days, weeks or months at a time. It’s usually a lifelong problem.

Only a small number of people with IBS have severe symptoms. Some people can control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle and stress. More-severe symptoms can be treated with medication and counseling.

IBS doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk of colorectal cancer. See How to Stop Diarrhea Fast – Types, Causes & Symptoms

What is a Functional GI Disorder?

IBS is a type of functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. These conditions, also called disorders of the gut-brain interaction, have to do with problems in how your gut and brain work together.

These problems cause your digestive tract to be very sensitive. They also change how your bowel muscles contract. The result is abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation.

Read: Leaky Gut Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Diet and Treatment

What are the Different Types of IBS?

Researchers categorize IBS based on the type of bowel movement problems you have. The kind of IBS can affect your treatment. Certain medicines only work for certain types of IBS.

Often, people with IBS have normal bowel movements some days and abnormal ones on other days. The type of IBS you have depends on the abnormal bowel movements you experience:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C): Most of your poop is hard and lumpy.
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D): Most of your poop is loose and watery.
  • And IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M): You have both hard and lumpy bowel movements and loose and watery movements on the same day.

What Causes IBS?

The exact cause of IBS isn’t known. Factors that appear to play a role include:

  • Muscle contractions in the intestine. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract as they move food through your digestive tract. Contractions that are stronger and last longer than usual can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. Weak contractions can slow food passage and lead to hard, dry stools.
  • Nervous system. Issues with the nerves in your digestive system may cause discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool. Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can cause your body to overreact to changes that typically occur in the digestive process. This can result in pain, diarrhea or constipation.
  • Severe infection. IBS can develop after a severe bout of diarrhea caused by bacteria or a virus. This is called gastroenteritis. IBS might also be associated with a surplus of bacteria in the intestines (bacterial overgrowth).
  • Early life stress. People exposed to stressful events, especially in childhood, tend to have more symptoms of IBS. See How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety – 7 Simple Ways
  • Changes in gut microbes. Examples include changes in bacteria, fungi and viruses, which typically reside in the intestines and play a key role in health. Research indicates that the microbes in people with IBS might differ from those in people who don’t have IBS.


Symptoms of IBS can be triggered by:

  • Food. The role of food allergy or intolerance in IBS isn’t fully understood. A true food allergy rarely causes IBS. But many people have worse IBS symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or beverages. These include wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk and carbonated drinks.
  • Stress. Most people with IBS experience worse or more-frequent symptoms during periods of increased stress. But while stress may make symptoms worse, it doesn’t cause them. Read: How to reduce stress and anxiety

IBS Symptoms

Symptoms of IBS vary but are usually present for a long time. The most common include:

  • Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating that is related to passing a bowel movement
  • Changes in appearance of bowel movement
  • Changes in how often you are having a bowel movement

Other symptoms that are often related include sensation of incomplete evacuation and increased gas or mucus in the stool.

Women with IBS may find that symptoms flare up during their periods. These symptoms often happen again and again, which can make you feel stressed or upset. As you learn ways to manage flare-ups, you’ll start to feel better, physically and mentally.

Read How to Improve Gut Health Naturally

How to Treat IBS

The goal of IBS treatment is to provide relief from your symptoms. Your exact course of treatment will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms.

The success of the treatment often depends on having a good understanding of what IBS is and how it is treated. Fortunately, there are dietary, pharmacologic and behavioral approaches that can help, and they should be individualized to you.

So ask your doctor lots of questions and help your doctor get to know what is important to you. Patients with better relationships with their medical provider often report that they have better symptom control.

Many patients worry about their symptoms and what will happen to them in the future. IBS is troubling and uncomfortable, but the condition itself does not increase your risk of any future health difficulties.

Treatment of IBS and associated symptoms may include:

  • Dietary changes
  • Medications
  • Psychotherapy
  • Alternative therapies

Dietary Changes

Bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea may respond to dietary modification. For example, caffeine or fatty foods stimulate colonic contractions, so someone with IBS and diarrhea might have improvement by reducing their daily intake of caffeinated beverages and rich foods.

Those who suffer with bloating and abdominal discomfort might benefit from eating less food containing carbohydrates that are not digested well in the small intestine.

Eating foods that contain large quantities of lactose, fructose and sorbitol, for example, may increase intestinal gas production, triggering more bloating, diarrhea and/or abdominal discomfort in those with IBS.

Many healthy foods, including some fruits and vegetables, contain these types of fermentable carbohydrates, in addition to fiber, another source of intestinal gas production.

Finding the right balance of healthy foods can be a challenge if you have IBS. Ask your doctor if you might benefit from a trial of the low FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) diet that has been shown in research studies to help reduce gassiness, abdominal pain and bloating in patients with IBS.

Working with a nutritionist is always recommended to make sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need, no matter which diet you are on.

IBS Medication

There are several medications that can be used to treat IBS.

  • Smooth muscle relaxants: These are best for relieving or preventing intestinal cramping.
  • Antidiarrheal medications: Medications for those with diarrhea slow intestinal transit and reduce the frequency of bowel movements while improving the consistency of the stool.
  • Laxatives: For patients who have constipation as the predominant symptom.
  • Antibiotics: To attempt to alter the composition of the gut flora that might be responsible for the fermentation of poorly digested carbohydrates.
  • Low-dose antidepressants: If pain and diarrhea are your predominant symptoms, you may find relief with these medications that work on the gut’s nervous system to make it less reactive to foods you eat or to emotional stress.


There is a strong connection between the nervous system and colonic function. Stress plays an important role in the frequency and severity of symptoms in IBS patients.

A history of stressful life events or a current stressful situation can often precede IBS. Some patients who lost loved ones report the onset of symptoms shortly after the loss.

Others with a history of depression notice that when the depression returns their symptoms worsen. Sometimes anxiety or depression occur with the onset of IBS symptoms.

If emotional stress is a trigger for your symptoms, there are several psychological interventions that might be used. The most studied is cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been shown to be effective for IBS.

This type of therapy is provided by a trained mental health professional. Hypnotherapy has also been shown to help manage IBS symptoms.

Alternative Therapies

  • Certain probiotics have been shown to be helpful in managing some symptoms of IBS.
  • Acupuncture may be helpful in managing anxiety, fibromyalgia, migraines and insomnia associated with IBS. Acupuncture also can have a direct gastrointestinal effect by altering GI motility and pain perception.
  • Therapeutic massage can help reduce anxiety and relieve stress.

Often, an integrated approach that combines these therapies works best.

Risk Factors

Many people have occasional symptoms of IBS. But you’re more likely to have the syndrome if you:

  • Are young. IBS occurs more frequently in people under age 50.
  • Are female. In the United States, IBS is more common among women. Estrogen therapy before or after menopause also is a risk factor for IBS.
  • Have a family history of IBS. Genes may play a role, as may shared factors in a family’s environment or a combination of genes and environment.
  • Have anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. A history of sexual, physical or emotional abuse also might be a risk factor.


Chronic constipation or diarrhea can cause hemorrhoids.

In addition, IBS is associated with:

  • Poor quality of life. Many people with moderate to severe IBS report poor quality of life. Research indicates that people with IBS miss three times as many days from work as do those without bowel symptoms.
  • Mood disorders. Experiencing the symptoms of IBS can lead to depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety also can make IBS worse.

How is IBS Diagnosed?

If you’ve been having uncomfortable GI symptoms, see your healthcare provider. The first step in diagnosing IBS is a medical history and a physical exam. Your provider will ask you about your symptoms:

  • Do you have pain related to bowel movements?
  • Do you notice a change in how often you have a bowel movement?
  • Has there been a change in how your poop looks?
  • How often do you have symptoms?
  • When did your symptoms start?
  • What medicines do you take?
  • Have you been sick or had a stressful event in your life recently?

Depending on your symptoms, you may need other tests to confirm a diagnosis. Blood tests, stool samples and X-rays can help rule out other diseases that mimic IBS.

Will I need a colonoscopy?

Depending on your symptoms, medical history and other factors, your provider may recommend a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to examine your colon in more detail. These two outpatient procedures are similar. The difference is that a sigmoidoscopy examines just the lower half of the colon. A colonoscopy examines the entire colon.

A flexible sigmoidoscopy can help evaluate bowel disorders, rectal bleeding or polyps. Your provider will:

  1. Insert a sigmoidoscope, a long, thin, flexible instrument, into the rectum.
  2. Advance the sigmoidoscope to the colon.
  3. View the lining of the rectum and lower part of the colon.

Here’s what you can expect during a colonoscopy. Your provider will:

  1. Insert the colonoscope through the rectum.
  2. Advance the scope and examine the entire colon.
  3. Remove small amounts of tissue for a biopsy (if necessary).
  4. Identify and remove small growths called polyps (if necessary).

Often, providers can make an accurate diagnosis and even deliver treatment using a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a much less invasive procedure compared to an abdominal operation.

Do I need to see a gastroenterologist?

If you have IBS symptoms, first talk to your primary care physician or regular healthcare provider. Your provider may refer you to a gastroenterologist.

gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the digestive system, including:

  • IBS.
  • Colorectal (colon) cancer.
  • Liver disease.
  • Swallowing and esophageal disorders.
  • Pancreas disorders.

Can I prevent IBS?

Since there is no known cause for IBS, you can’t prevent or avoid it. If you have IBS, you can keep symptoms from flaring up by avoiding triggers.

How can I manage IBS?

It may be frustrating trying to get a handle on IBS. Treatment can often be trial and error. But the good news is that nearly everyone with IBS can find a treatment that helps them.

Usually, diet and activity changes improve symptoms over time. You may need some patience as you figure out your triggers so you can take steps to avoid them. But after a few weeks or months, you should notice significant improvement in how you feel. A nutritionist can help you plan a healthy, filling diet that meets your needs. This article above expounds all you need to know about how to treat ibs (Irritable bowel syndrome).