Many people can experience IBS symptoms for a long time before seeking medical treatment. In fact, up to 70 % of those who could be diagnosed with IBS are not currently receiving medical care for their symptoms.
No cure has been found for IBS, but many treatment options are now available that target symptoms. The goal of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) treatment is to relieve symptoms. Most likely, your doctor will encourage you to manage stress and make changes to your diet.
Alternative therapy for IBS has attracted interest in the past years for its focus on lifestyle change. The following non-traditional therapies may help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome:
Acupuncture - Acupuncture may be able to help relax muscle spasms and improve bowel function related to IBS.
Herbs – Peppermint is a natural antispasmodic that relaxes smooth muscles in the intestines and may provide short-term relief of IBS symptoms. Before taking herbs, check with your doctor to be sure that they won't interact with pharmaceutical medicines.
Probiotics - Probiotics are the "good" bacteria that normally live in your intestines and are found in certain foods, such as yogurt. Some doctors believe that adding probiotics to a diet may help ease symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating.
Stress relief - Regular exercise, yoga, massage or meditation can all be effective ways to relieve stress which can trigger bouts of IBS.
Simple changes in diet can provide lasting relief from irritable bowel syndrome. Although your body may not respond immediately to the changes, the goal is to discover long-term solutions. If your signs and symptoms remain the same or worse, tell your doctor. You may also want to talk to a dietician. Doctors recommend the following dietary changes:
Avoid problem foods - If certain foods worsen signs and symptoms of IBS, don't eat them. Some common foods that can trigger IBS include:
- caffeinated beverages
- dairy products
- fatty foods
Drink plenty of liquids - Try to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, every day.
Eat at regular intervals - Eat at about the same time every day to help regulate bowel function. If you are experiencing diarrhea, small but frequent meals may help ease the condition. If you are constipated, eat larger amounts of high-fiber foods to help move food through the intestines. Do not skip meals.
Increase fiber – People diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, often find fiber to be a mixed blessing. Although fiber can reduce constipation, it can also worsen gas and cramping. This is why doctors recommend you gradually increase the amount of fiber in your diet over a period of weeks. If you opt for a fiber supplement, introduce it gradually and drink plenty of water every day to minimize gas, bloating and constipation.
Living with irritable bowel syndrome presents daily challenges, as the condition can be both painful and/or embarrassing and can seriously affect your quality of life. Some doctors suggest the following:
Exercise regularly - Exercise stimulates normal contractions of the intestines and can help you feel better about yourself. Start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time you exercise by about 10 minutes. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have been diagnosed with other medical conditions.
Identify IBS triggers - Identify the factors that trigger IBS to help manage the condition gain more control of your life.
Learn about IBS – It helps to be informed about IBS so that you can take better charge of your life. Learn as much about IBS as you can. Talk to your doctor, look for information on the Internet from reputable sources such as the National Institutes of Health, and read books and pamphlets.
Support groups - Seek out others with IBS. Talk to people who know what you're going through. Try visiting IBS support groups on the Internet or in your community.
Two medications are currently approved for specific cases of IBS. These drugs can be prescribed only by doctors enrolled in a special program and are intended for women with severe cases of diarrhea-predominant IBS or severe constipation for whom other treatments haven't been successful. Generally, these medications are only be used if usual therapy for IBS has failed. Additionally, IBS medicines should only be prescribed by a gastroenterologist with expertise in IBS due to potential side effects.
Alosetron - Alosetron is a nerve receptor antagonist that has been designed to relax the colon and slow the movement of waste through the lower bowel.
Lubiprostone - Lubiprostone is a chloride channel activator taken twice a day. This IBS medication works by increasing fluid secretion in the small intestine to help with the passage of stool.
Antibiotics – Some people whose symptoms are caused by overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines may benefit from antibiotic treatment.
Anti diarrheal medications - Over-the-counter medications such as loperamide can help control diarrhea. The lowest dose possible may be helpful if taken 20 to 30 minutes before eating, especially if you know that the food planned for your meal is likely to cause diarrhea. In the long run, these medications can cause problems if not used appropriately.
Anti cholinergic medications – This class of medications affect certain activities of the autonomic nervous system (anti cholinergics) to relieve painful bowel spasms. Anti cholinergic medications may be helpful for people who experience bouts of diarrhea, but the medicines can worsen constipation.
Antidepressant medications - If symptoms include pain or depression, your doctor may recommend a tricyclic antidepressant or a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). These medications help relieve depression as well as inhibit the activity of neurons that control the intestines.
Anxiolitics – This class of medicines includes chlordiazepoxide combined with amytiptillin and is used for the treatment of nighttime abdominal pain and cramps.
Anyone can experience digestive upset from worry or anxiety. But if you are diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, stress-related problems such as abdominal pain and diarrhea tend to occur with greater frequency and intensity. Finding ways to deal with stress may be helpful in preventing or alleviating symptoms. Set aside at least 20 minutes a day for any activity you find relaxing — listening to music, reading, playing computer games or just soaking in a warm bath.
Biofeedback - The goal of biofeedback is to teach you how to enter a relaxed state so that you can cope more easily with stress. With the help of a simple monitoring machine, you can reduce muscle tension and slow heart rate and can then learn how to produce these changes yourself.
Deep breathing - Deep breathing can help relax abdominal muscles, which may lead to more-normal bowel activity. You also become calmer when you breathe from the diaphragm.
Progressive relaxation exercises - These exercises help you relax muscles in your body, one by one.
Psychological treatments are increasingly being used to help patients diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. In fact, the gastrointestinal system is particularly sensitive to stress and for many patients stress leads to an exacerbation of their IBS symptoms. Psychological treatment is recommended when IBS symptoms are moderate to severe, there has been failure to respond to medical treatments, or when there is evidence that stress or psychological factors are contributing to the intensity of the GI symptom. Different people respond differently to IBS symptoms, and the following treatment modalities may help alleviate problems.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) - CBT involves working with a psychotherapist to address specific concerns and perceptions about functional gastrointestinal symptoms. These perceptions are then modified to help change reactions to stress, which can impact bowel symptoms.
Hypnosis – Hypnotherapy may help to reduce abdominal pain and bloating caused by IBS. During a hypnosis session, a trained professional teaches you how to enter a relaxed state and then guides you to relax the abdominal muscles
Psychodynamic or interpersonal psychotherapy – During this type of therapy, you learn to identify and address difficulties in interpersonal relationships that may lead to worsening gastrointestinal symptoms.
Stress management - This type of training uses imaging and relaxation methods are used to reduce autonomic activity (blood pressure, pulse) and muscle tension to increase the awareness and control of physical and emotional responses. Stress management training is particularly useful in helping people diagnosed with IBS control the physiological consequences of stress.