Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes uncomfortable chronic digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. Treatment for irritable bowel syndrome focuses on reducing the frequency and severity of these symptoms through diet changes, stress reduction and medications. IBS is manageable through lifestyle changes, but there is no treatment that cures the condition.
There is no such thing as an IBS diet that works for everyone with irritable bowel syndrome, but diet changes do have an effect on IBS symptoms. Different people with IBS may have different dietary triggers that make their symptoms worse. However, there are certain triggers that are more common. A good approach to finding out what your IBS triggers may be is to remove the common triggers from your diet. You can either remove the triggers one by one to see which one has the greater effect, or you can remove all of them at once and reintroduce the potential problem foods to your diet individually to monitor the effect. Some of the foods and substances that commonly worsen the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include caffeine-containing beverages, carbonated beverages, salads, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage which are thought to increase gas production.
Increasing the amount of fiber in the diet is also recommended for people with IBS who experience constipation. This fiber can be obtained through food or fiber supplements, which are available over the counter. Reducing the size of the meals you eat and eating more frequently can also improve symptoms of indigestion caused by IBS.
In many people, stress worsens the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. The digestive system is very sensitive to stress because the intestines are directly affected by stress hormones and other chemicals involved in the stress response. Managing your stress levels can improve symptoms of indigestion. If you have anxiety or depression, a doctor may recommend antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications to help you control your stress levels.
Over-the-counter medications such as anti-diarrheal medications and laxatives can help with symptoms of diarrhea and constipation; heavy reliance on laxative medications is not recommended, however. People with IBS who experience painful abdominal spasms may benefit from taking anticholinergic medications, which help control the spasms. In some cases of bacterial overgrowth or infection in the intestines, antibiotics may help with IBS symptoms, but antibiotics are not a routine treatment for IBS. There are currently two approved prescription medications specifically for IBS, called alosetron and lubiprostone, but due to side effects, these medications are used as a treatment of last resort to control IBS symptoms that do not respond to other treatments.