What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and how is it treated?


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an illness affecting the digestive system. Symptoms of IBS include diarrhea, constipation, bloating and abdominal cramping. IBS can be divided into three types: IBS with diarrhea, IBS with constipation, and IBS with diarrhea alternating with constipation. Treatment is determined by symptoms and type. There is no known cure for IBS; however, it is possible to manage symptoms. Some treatment methods for IBS include medications, exercise and changes to diet.

Medications used to treat IBS depend on the symptoms and their severity. If diarrhea is the primary symptom, antidiarrheals such as Imodium and Atropine may be used. Xifaxan is used for relief of gas and bloating, or Lotronex in the case of severe diarrhea. For constipation as the primary symptom, laxatives such as Miralax, Milk of Magnesia, Lactulose and Senekot may be used. At times, low doses of antibiotics like Norpramin may be used to treat the pain associated with IBS.

To assist with making changes to a diet, many doctors may suggest keeping a food journal for several weeks to determine trigger foods. Use the journal to keep track of changes as you determine potential trigger foods and eliminate them one at a time. Journals should include what you ate and drank during the day, portion size and the time of day the meal or snack was consumed. Also important to include is what you were doing at the time symptoms occurred, as well as the time of day in which symptoms presented. Some suggestions to begin the process include the following: limit caffeine and alcohol, limit fatty food intake, limit artificial sweeteners (for diarrhea), increase fiber (for constipation), and avoid beans, cabbage, raw cauliflower and raw broccoli to relieve bloating and gas. It is also recommended to increase exercise, quit smoking and reduce stress.

Simple changes to diet, depending on the symptoms, may decrease the severity of symptoms and their negative impact on daily life. The foods to limit or avoid when constipation is the primary symptom include dairy, red meat, chips, frozen dinners, cookies, bananas and fried foods. When these foods are limited or altogether avoided, it is recommended to replace them with foods rich in fiber. Examples of high fiber foods are berries (blackberries, raspberries and strawberries), air-popped popcorn, beans, dried fruit, whole grain bread, high-fiber cereal, broccoli, raw fruit (plums, pears and apples), nuts (Brazil nuts, peanuts, walnuts and almonds). If diarrhea and cramping are the primary symptoms, it may be beneficial to avoid or limit high-fat foods, fried foods, coffee, caffeine and alcohol. Some foods may cause gas and bloating, which could potentially increase the level of pain associated with IBS. It may be recommended to limit or avoid the following foods to decrease gas and bloating: beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, raisins and onions.

Finding the best treatment options for IBS may take some time, as treatment is often trial and error. It can take a while to determine what is triggering IBS symptoms and what works best to relieve those symptoms. Regardless of the symptoms and their severity, it is important that individuals with IBS work with their doctor to find what works best for them.


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