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Irritable Bowel Syndrome Treatment

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Treatment

The goal of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) treatment is to provide relief from your symptoms. Your exact course of treatment will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms.

The success of the treatment often depends on two factors:

  • Physician-patient relationship . Living with pain or discomfort can be stressful and challenging for patients. Working together with your doctor to try to improve symptoms is key to recovery, so it is important that you feel comfortable discussing these issues. Patients with better relationships with their medical provider often report that they have better symptom control.

  • Patient education . Proper education is vital to a successful treatment plan. Many patients spend time worrying about their symptoms and wondering about what will happen in the future. IBS is a troubling set of symptoms, but your doctor will reassure you and explain what steps can be taken to reduce symptoms.

Treatment options include:

IBS Treatment: Dietary Changes

Some symptoms of IBS respond well to dietary changes. Patients with mild to moderate symptoms are most responsive to these modifications. Dietary changes include:

  • Gradually incorporating more fiber into your diet

  • Avoiding certain foods that initiate or aggravate symptoms, such as lactose, caffeine, fatty foods and gassy vegetables

Your doctor may recommend an exclusion diet. An exclusion diet should be supervised by a dietitian or medical professional. During an exclusion diet:

  1. You restrict your diet to basic, bland foods.

  2. You gradually add new foods.

  3. As you add new foods, record your reactions and symptoms.

  4. If a food causes symptoms, you know to avoid that food.

Your doctor may also recommend keeping a daily food diary to identify trends in food or stress triggers. An effective food diary includes:

  • Types of food and beverages consumed

  • Number of bowel movements

  • Pain experienced

Your doctor and a trained dietitian can help you manage your diet.

IBS Treatment: Psychotherapy

A history of stressful life events or a current stressful situation can often precede IBS. Some patients who lost loved ones report the onset of symptoms shortly after the loss. Other patients with a history of depression notice that when the depression returns their symptoms worsen, too.

Several studies have shown that the onset of psychiatric disorders occurs with the onset of IBS symptoms. IBS patients most frequently present with depression and anxiety. There are several psychological interventions used for treating IBS. Your doctor will discuss with you if you are a candidate for psychological treatment.

IBS Treatment: Stress Management

There is a strong connection between the nervous system and colonic function. Stress plays an important role in the frequency and severity of symptoms in patients with IBS. Your doctor will help you recognize and accept stressors in your life. Other stress management techniques that may help relieve IBS symptoms include breathing techniques and physical activity.

Your doctor may encourage you to keep a diary to help you recognize and manage stressors that activate your symptoms.

IBS Treatment: Medication

There are a number of medications that can be used to treat IBS.

  • Smooth muscle relaxants. These may help relieve bloating, abdominal distension and acute pain.

  • Antidiarrheal medications. Medications to treat diarrhea along with rehydration therapy can correct your fluid depletion.

  • Psychotropic medications. If pain and diarrhea are your predominant symptoms, you may find relief with these medications. However, they come with strong side effects, so doctors often prescribe them only for patients with severe symptoms, or for those who did not find relief with other medications.

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are often used in older patients or in those with constipation. The drug reduces the discomfort and increases relaxation of the colon.

  • Alternative therapy. Alternative therapies, such as the use of certain herbs, help some patients by alleviating gastrointestinal pain. Other alternative therapies include:

    • Hypnotism, which helps manage stress and anxiety and enhances coping skills

    • Pro-flora supplements, which rebalance normal bowel bacteria

    • Therapeutic massage to help reduce the effects of stress

Often, an integrated approach works best. This approach views IBS as a biopsychosocial illness, recognizing that there are physical as well as psychological factors that contribute to the illness.

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