Irritable Bowel Syndrome | Treatment

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What changes can I make at home to help control my symptoms?

There is no cure for IBS. The best way to help control your symptoms is to:

  • Lead a healthy lifestyle: Eat a varied, healthy diet, and drink plenty of water. Try to eat 5 or 6 smaller meals each day, instead of 3 big meals. Exercise regularly and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
  • Avoid foods that make your symptoms worse: You may notice that your symptoms get worse when you eat certain foods. Foods that may make IBS symptoms worse include caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea), carbonated beverages, milk products, alcohol, chocolate, certain fruits, and beans or cabbage (which can cause gas). To help you figure out if a certain food bothers you, keep a food journal. Record what you eat and whether you have any IBS symptoms. If you find a pattern, talk to your doctor about whether you should remove that food from your diet and how to find healthy substitutes.
  • Find ways to handle stress: Your symptoms may get worse when you're under stress, such as when you travel, attend social events, or change your daily routine, Talk to your family doctor about ways to deal with stress, such as exercise, relaxation training, or meditation. He or she may have some suggestions or may refer you to someone who can give you some ideas. Your doctor may also suggest that you talk to a counselor about things that are bothering you.

Why may fiber be helpful?

Fiber can be helpful because it helps improve how the intestines work. There are 2 types of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber helps both diarrhea and constipation. It dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material. Many foods, such as oat bran, apples, beans, and citrus fruits, contain soluble fiber. Psyllium, a natural vegetable fiber, also is a soluble fiber. You can buy psyllium supplements (some brand names: Fiberall, Metamucil, Perdiem) to drink, and you can add it to other foods.
  • Insoluble fiber helps constipation by moving material more quickly through your digestive system and adding bulk to your stool. Insoluble fiber is in whole grain breads, nuts, seeds, wheat bran, and many vegetables and fruits.

Increase the fiber in your diet slowly. Some people feel bloated and have gas if they increase their fiber intake too quickly. Gas and bloating usually improve as you get used to eating more fiber. The best way to increase your fiber intake is eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods. For more information, read the handout, "Fiber: How to Increase the Amount in Your Diet."

Can my doctor prescribe medicine for IBS?

If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help you manage or lessen your symptoms. For example, if your main symptom is pain, your doctor may prescribe antispasmodic medicines such as hyoscyamine or dicyclomine to reduce cramping. Heating pads and hot baths can also be comforting.

If diarrhea is a frequent problem, medicine such as loperamide (brand name: Imodium) may help. If constipation is a problem, your doctor may prescribe a laxative or a medicine called lubiprostone.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a tranquilizer or sedative, an antidepressant, or an antibiotic. Your doctor may also recommend a probiotic or fiber supplement.

Will IBS get worse over time?

No. While IBS will probably recur throughout your life, it won't get worse. It doesn't cause cancer or require surgery, and it won't shorten your life.

What if IBS interferes with my daily activities?

IBS may have caused you to avoid doing certain things, like going out or going to work or school. While it may take some time for your efforts to pay off, you may find new freedom by following a plan that includes a healthy diet, learning new ways to deal with your stress, and avoiding foods that may make your symptoms worse.

Bibliography

See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 08/12
Created: 12/96

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