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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) health centre

A combination of therapies to help IBS

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

When you've got irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) you'll often try anything to make the symptoms go away.

Although diet is the front line in symptom management there are other alternative, complementary therapies which may help too, even if they don't always have the science to back them up.

Mood can be important when managing IBS as even though it has physical symptoms it has a psychological aspect too.

IBS symptoms and triggers are different for everyone. Some people may have constipation, others diarrhoea. Some may experience both. A therapy may help one person and do nothing for another. It may be a matter of trial and error until you hit upon what works for you.

Diet and IBS

Your diet is the most obvious place to start when it comes to managing IBS. It's not the same advice for everyone - it depends on symptoms and severity.

"People with IBS usually find that eating can trigger their symptoms, but it’s often difficult to identify what component, if any, of the meal may be responsible. For some, certain food and drink may exacerbate symptoms - such as fizzy drinks, dairy, gluten, fatty foods, onions and some fruits. In many cases, it may be the act of eating, what it represents, or just eating in a rush, that is upsetting the gut," says Gillian Goddard, dietitian and diet adviser to the charity The IBS Network.

"Dietary advice is pretty much first call if you have IBS," says Dr Megan Rossi, who's a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association." First a dietitian would look at how much fibre, spicy food, fats and dairy you are eating - 50% of people respond if changes are made at this stage."

"The second line of treatment would be what's called a 'low FODMAP diet', where about 70% of people with IBS see an improvement in symptoms," says Megan.

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These are substances naturally present in foods that start to ferment in the gut and can lead to bloating. It's quite a complicated balancing act so follow a low FODMAP diet under the guidance of a registered dietitian. Your GP can refer you to a local dietitian.

Medications for IBS

There's a range of medications that may be used to help treat the symptoms of IBS, depending on your key symptoms.

  • Antispasmodics help relieve stomach cramps and pains
  • Antimotility medication help reduce diarrhoea
  • Laxatives help relieve constipation
  • Low-dose anti-depressants may also help reduce pain and cramps in the stomach

Probiotics for IBS

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the gut, often called 'friendly bacteria'. Some experts think IBS can be improved if there's more good gut bacteria. There's evidence that that taking probiotic supplements can help some people with IBS.

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