Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) generally involves making changes to your diet and lifestyle. You may also be given medication. These treatments focus on relieving your symptoms so you can have a normal life.
The severity of IBS varies from person to person. For some people, the problems are mild and go away for months or years. For others, the problems are severe and interfere with their daily lives. IBS does not increase your risk of future health problems.
There is no test for IBS, but your doctor can usually diagnose it based on your symptoms and history. Your doctor will want to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or colitis, and may ask for a stool sample to check for infection.
Your doctor will probably ask you to keep a food diary so he or she can see which foods make your symptoms worse. A diet that cuts out foods known to cause IBS symptoms, such as wheat, dairy products, onions, beans and fatty foods, may help improve your symptoms. It’s important to talk with a dietitian about how to make these changes. A diet rich in fiber can help relieve your symptoms, but it’s important to know that too much fiber can trigger diarrhea in some people.
If you have diarrhea-predominant IBS, your doctor may recommend a low FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are sugars that are difficult to digest and can be a problem for some people with IBS. The diet limits foods containing these sugars, including dairy, wheat, bread, beans and some fruits and vegetables.
In addition to modifying your diet, your doctor might recommend that you drink more water and avoid caffeine-containing beverages, such as coffee, tea and cola. Caffeine can stimulate colon contractions in some people with IBS.
Some people with IBS report improvement in their symptoms by avoiding gluten, a protein found mainly in wheat, barley and rye. Your doctor will ask you about your family history of celiac disease and whether you have any other digestive issues.
Drugs that reduce diarrhea or constipation might be recommended as part of your IBS treatment plan. Some examples include loperamide (Imodium), rifaximin (Xifaxan) and eluxadoline (Lotronex). A new drug, linaclotide, relaxes your intestines and might be helpful for people with diarrhea-predominant IBS.
The best IBS treatment is to find a combination of therapies that work for you and stick with them. It might take time to discover which dietary changes and medicines are best for you, but most people can find relief from IBS with patience and commitment. If you’re under stress, it might also be helpful to get some psychological treatment. That might involve counseling, acupuncture or meditation. Some research has shown that a combination of these treatments might be more effective than one therapy alone. In the future, there might be new medicines that might ease your symptoms even more. It’s important to keep talking with your doctor about your symptoms and how well your treatment is working.