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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) health centre

Irritable bowel syndrome - What treatments work for irritable bowel syndrome?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects the way your bowels work. The symptoms can cause a lot of discomfort. If you have IBS, you can get painful cramps, bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea.

There's no cure for IBS. But there are treatments that can help you control your symptoms. There are also things you can do to help yourself.

Talking to your doctor about your worries is important. A good relationship with your doctor can help you to find the best treatment for your symptoms.

Key messages for people with irritable bowel syndrome

  • Anti-spasmodic drugs may help to relieve pain.

  • Antidepressants may reduce pain and diarrhoea for some people if other treatments haven't worked.

  • A fibre supplement could relieve constipation.

  • Most medicines work only a little better than a dummy treatment (a placebo).

  • There are things you can do for yourself that might help if you have IBS, such as learning to deal with stress.

  • Talking treatments like cognitive behaviour therapy and hypnotherapy may help.

  • Learning as much as you can about IBS will help you cope better.

Which treatments work best? We've looked at the best research and given a rating for each treatment according to how well it works.

For help deciding which treatment is best for you, see How to use research to support your treatment decisions.

Treatments for irritable bowel syndrome

Treatments that are likely to work Treatments that work, but whose harms may outweigh benefits
  • Alosetron: This drug is used to treat women with diarrhoea and pain caused by severe IBS. It's not available in the UK, but we've included information on it for people who are interested. The brand name in the US is Lotronex. There's a risk of serious side effects. More...

Treatments that need further study
  • Loperamide (Imodium): This drug is sometimes used to treat diarrhoea in people with irritable bowel syndrome. More...

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy: This is a talking treatment. It teaches you how to deal with stressful thoughts and feelings. The idea is that this will help you control your symptoms of IBS. More...

  • Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy helps you relax and focus on your symptoms. Some types of hypnotherapy use tapes or CDs so you can continue treatment at home. More...

  • Acupuncture: If you have this treatment, a trained acupuncturist puts thin needles into your skin. More...

Other treatments

We haven't looked at the research on these treatments in detail (see Our method). But we've included some information because you may have heard of these treatments or be interested in them.

  • Self-help: There are several things you can try that may make IBS easier to cope with. More...

  • Lubiprostone: This is a new drug that's used to treat constipation. This treatment has been approved in the US, but it's not available in the UK. More....

  • Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil relaxes the muscles in your bowels. It's sometimes used to treat symptoms of IBS. More...

  • Probiotics: These are tiny organisms, usually bacteria, that are similar to those that live in your bowels and help digestion. More...

Last Updated: March 13, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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