The Top Tactics for Relieving IBS

By Semko, Laura 
March 21, 2017
January 2015

The Top Tactics for Relieving IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be hard to diagnose—no simple test can detect it. The disorder can be even harder to treat. Stomach cramping, diarrhea, constipation—these symptoms may come and go. And what may work to relieve them for one person may not work for someone else.

The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) recently looked at the latest research on treating IBS. Experts reviewed the results of numerous studies. Overall, they found more research is needed to decide on how useful many treatments are. But some proved better than others in easing the symptoms of IBS.

Dietary changes

Experts don’t know exactly what causes IBS. It’s been linked to bacteria, hormonal changes, mental health issues, and stress. Some people may simply have a sensitive gut.

Dietary changes have long been touted as a good first step in treating IBS. The ACG found that eating more fiber may be particularly helpful, especially if you have constipation. It’s best to gradually increase how much fiber you eat. Too much, too fast can make your symptoms worse. Fiber-rich foods include oats, whole grain, barley, fruits, and vegetables.

Woman wrapped in a towel, sitting on a closed toilet, holding her belly and head.

You may also find some relief by:

  • Avoiding foods that can cause gas, such as beans, broccoli, and soda.

  • Cutting out foods that seem to make your symptoms worse. These include milk, coffee, and sugar substitutes.

  • Following a gluten-free diet.

  • Eating more slowly and not overeating.


A variety of drugs are available to treat the symptoms of IBS. Based on your specific problems, your doctor may give you one that prevents diarrhea, constipation, or stomach pain. The ACG found that the drugs linaclotide and lubiprostone are effective if you mostly have constipation. Alosetron can help treat severe diarrhea in women.

Perhaps surprisingly, antidepressants are another potential treatment choice. They may help relieve all symptoms of IBS. They may work in part by easing pain and depression, a possible IBS trigger. But they can have serious side effects.

Mental health therapy

IBS has been linked to mood disorders like depression and anxiety. People who dwell on worst-case scenarios tend to have more severe symptoms. High levels of stress can trigger the condition, too.

For these reasons, doctors sometimes suggest therapies that can boost mental health. These may include counseling, talk therapy, hypnosis, and stress management. The ACG found that many of these work. They can help you deal with your emotions. You may also learn how to better cope with stress.

Other treatment options

Herbal remedies abound for treating IBS. But little solid scientific evidence shows they work. The ACG did find that peppermint oil may help. Taken in capsule form, it may ease cramping, bloating, and gas. Look for pills that are enteric-coated. They will dissolve in your gut, not in your stomach. Otherwise, they can cause heartburn and nausea.

Another promising therapy: probiotics. These bacteria are similar to those that live in your gut. They are available in pill and powder form. Some yogurts also contain them. There are many different strains of probiotics. You should talk with your doctor first to decide which one may be best for you.


Find all the facts about IBS here.



Online resources

American College of Gastroenterology

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases


March 21, 2017


American College of Gastroenterology Monograph on the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Idiopathic Constipation. A. Ford, et al. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2014;109(suppl.1):S2-S26., American Gastroenterological Association Institute Technical Review on the Pharmacological Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. L. Chang, A. Lembo, and S. Sultan. Gastroenterology. 2014;147:1149-72., Which Psychological Factors Exacerbate Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Development of a Comprehensive Model. M. van Tilburg, O. Palsson, and W. Whitehead. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 201;74(6):486-92.

Reviewed By:  

Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN