Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be a lifelong condition. You may be suffering from cramping and loose stools, diarrhea, constipation, or some combination of these symptoms.
For some people, IBS symptoms may interfere with work, travel, and attending social events. But taking medicines and making lifestyle changes can help you manage your symptoms.
Changes in your diet may be helpful. However, IBS varies from person to person. So the same changes may not work for everyone.
Keep track of your symptoms and the foods you are eating. This will help you look for a pattern of foods that may make your symptoms worse.
Avoid foods that cause symptoms. These may include fatty or fried foods, dairy products, caffeine, sodas, alcohol, chocolate, and grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.
Eat 4 to 5 smaller meals a day, rather than 3 larger ones.
Increase the fiber in your diet to relieve symptoms of constipation. Fiber is found in whole grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Since fiber may cause gas, it is best to add these foods to your diet slowly.
No one drug will work for everyone. Medicines your doctor may have you try include:
Antispasmodic medicines that you take before eating to control colon muscle spasms and abdominal cramping
Antidiarrheal medicines such as loperamide
Laxatives, such as lubiprostone, bisacodyl , and other ones bought without a prescription
Antidepressants to help relieve pain or discomfort
Rifaximin, an antibiotic that is not absorbed from your intestines
It is very important to follow your doctor's instructions when using medicines for IBS. Taking different medicines or not taking medicines the way your doctor advised can lead to more problems.
Stress may cause your intestines to be more sensitive and contract more. Many things can cause stress, including:
Not being able to do activities because of your pain
Changes or problems at work or at home
A busy schedule
Spending too much time alone
Having other medical problems
A first step toward reducing your stress is to figure out what makes you feel stressed.
Look at the things in your life that cause you the most worry.
Keep a diary of the experiences and thoughts that seem to be related to your anxiety and see if you can make changes to these situations.
Reach out to other people.
Find someone you trust (such as a friend, family member, neighbor, or clergy member) who will listen to you. Often, just talking to someone helps relieve anxiety and stress.
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor if:
You develop a fever
You have gastrointestinal bleeding
You have bad pain that does not go away
You lose over 5 to 10 pounds when you are not trying to lose weight
Irritable bowel syndrome. NIH Publication No. 12-693. July 2012. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).
George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.