Talking With Your Doctor About IBS Treatment

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If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you know that symptoms can take a toll on your quality of life. Stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation can keep you from going to work and participating in activities you enjoy. But you don’t have to live with symptoms. You can help manage your condition and find relief by working with your doctor to develop a treatment plan.  

IBS treatment is different for everyone. What works for one person may not be right for another. That’s why it’s so important to work closely with your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you. But individualized care starts with a conversation. Here are topics to bring up with your doctor that will help him or her decide the best course of treatment—for you. 

Identify Triggers

A big part of managing IBS symptoms is learning what triggers them or makes them worse. Your doctor may ask you to keep a personal diary for a few weeks to help identify your triggers. Use the diary to track your diet, stress levels, bowel habits, and other symptoms. Women should also note their menstrual cycle. Then analyze your diary for any patterns. For example, you may notice that IBS flare-ups tend to occur when you eat certain foods, like dairy products.  

Share this information with your doctor so that he or she can suggest lifestyle changes that will reduce symptoms. For example, your doctor may notice that you have an increase in flare-ups before important work meetings. As a result, he or she may recommend stress-reducing activities, such as yoga or massage. 

Explore Medications

If attempts to change your lifestyle or dietary habits don’t improve your IBS symptoms, your doctor may suggest medication. There are two main types of medications used to treat IBS.

Drugs that target the primary symptom 

Often your doctor will prescribe a medication based on your most dominant symptom, such as constipation or diarrhea. For example, treatment of constipation may include a laxative or fiber supplement, such as psyllium (Metamucil). Diarrhea may respond to treatment with the drug loperamide (Imodium). Doctors sometimes prescribe low-dose antidepressants to reduce pain signals from the gut in people with severe pain symptoms. 

Medications focused on overall IBS symptoms 

Although medications to treat IBS have typically focused on one symptom, new medications are being developed that treat many IBS symptoms at once. 

For example, the prescription drug lubiprostone (Amitiza) may reduce overall IBS symptoms, especially in women when constipation is the predominant bowel symptom. Linactolide (Linzess) is another medicine for IBS with predominant constipation. Alosetron (Lotronex) may reduce overall IBS symptoms when diarrhea is the predominant bowel symptom. 

Ask your doctor if medications that treat overall IBS symptoms are appropriate for you. To gain access to new and promising IBS drugs, you can also ask your doctor if you might be a candidate for a clinical trial. 

Consider Counseling

Dealing with IBS isn’t easy. But studies show that psychological treatment can help you better manage symptoms and cope with IBS. Treatments such as biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relaxation therapy may be used alone or with other treatments. Ask your doctor what he or she recommends for your unique condition.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 16
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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