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How is IBS treated?

There is not one treatment that will work for everyone. Finding what works for you may be a case of trial and error. In many cases, IBS can be managed by making changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Treatments that are known to be successful in treating IBS include:

What foods should I avoid with IBS?

Although it will vary from person to person, there are certain foods and drinks that are known to make IBS with diarrhoea worse, including:

  • Foods that are high in insoluble fibre, such as those found in fruit and vegetable skins
  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Food or drinks containing sorbitol (sugar alcohol which is sometimes used as an artificial sweetener)
  • Food or drinks high in fructose (fruit sugar)
  • Carbonated drinks, alcohol and drinks with caffeine in them

Likewise, there are known food and drinks that can make IBS with constipation worse, including:

  • Processed foods
  • Cereal and bread that are made from whole grains
  • A high protein diet
  • Cheese and other dairy products
  • Alcohol, carbonated drinks and coffee

Your doctor will be able to advise on the types of food you can try avoiding/including more of in your diet to help with your specific symptoms.

The FODMAP diet

A low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) diet may be an effective treatment if your IBS symptoms include bloating.

This diet reduces the amount of certain sugars that you eat to prevent fermentation in your gut. It includes cutting out some fruits and vegetables, wheat products, beans and dairy. Your doctor will be able to give you more information about whether this diet could help you.

Stress reduction techniques

Stress is one of the more common triggers of IBS in some people, so reducing stress can be an effective irritable bowel syndrome treatment for some people.

IBS can also be linked with anxiety, so if you feel like this is impacting you, you should speak to a doctor about it and get the advice and treatment you may need, as this doesn’t often go away on its own. We’ll cover more about this below.

Exercise

Exercise can help alleviate IBS symptoms.

The Department of Health recommends that adults should partake in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week - this could be brisk walking or cycling.

Alternatively, you should aim for 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week, which includes running, swimming or playing football.

Medication and psychological treatments for IBS

If your IBS is particularly severe, medication or psychological treatment may also be offered to help with the symptoms, depending on the cause.

Medication

If you try the lifestyle changes we have mentioned above, but they do not work, our doctors may prescribe a variety of different medications to help with your symptoms and discomfort.

  • Treating constipation

    Laxatives may be recommended if you have IBS with constipation. They soften your stools so that they are easier to pass.
  • Treating diarrhoea

    Antimotility medicines, such as loperamide, can help treat IBS with diarrhoea.
  • Treating the cramping and pain

    Antispasmodics work by helping the muscles of the digestive system to relax to reduce the amount of pain you experience.

Low dose antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, are designed to treat depression. However, in low doses, they can also help with other conditions, including IBS. They have been shown to help to relieve or reduce stomach cramping and stomach pain.

Psychological therapies and IBS?

If a doctor believes that your IBS is caused by stress, anxiety, or another psychological condition, or it has been ongoing for a long time with unsuccessful treatment, then you may be referred for a psychological treatment, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

What happens if IBS is left untreated?

If you leave your IBS untreated, then the pain and discomfort may continue. IBS will not cause permanent damage if left, but it may continue to disrupt your quality of life. In turn, this could lead to anxiety and depression, so it is best to seek help before this happens.

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