Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders globally, estimated to affect 10-15% of the population. Currently, there is no cure for IBS, so understanding the various treatments and management strategies for IBS is crucial for those living with this condition to help ease, and even prevent symptoms.
What IBS Treatments are there?
IBS treatments consist of dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments and medications. As IBS is a very personalised condition, which affects individuals in different ways, treatment plans also need to be highly personalised to manage the condition effectively.
Increasing your fibre intake
Ensuring you meet the recommended daily fibre intake can help to alleviate your IBS symptoms. Research has shown that soluble fibre can improve the overall symptoms of IBS. Our high-fibre diet medical guide details how to increase your fibre intake, sources of fibre, and the type of fibre most beneficial for your IBS symptoms.
Low FODMAP Diet
This low FODMAP diet involves restricting certain carbohydrates that are hard to digest and known to trigger IBS symptoms. Studies have shown that 3 out of 4 people can experience an improvement in their IBS symptoms immediately after adopting a low FODMAP diet.
An elimination diet involves strategically removing foods you suspect are triggering your IBS symptoms. Eliminating foods that trigger your symptoms can cause your symptoms to disappear altogether. The elimination diet is simple but effective when it comes to managing IBS.
Keeping well-hydrated aids in digestion and can ease symptoms. Specifically, drinking around 2 litres of water every day can help reduce the symptoms of IBS such as constipation and the associated abdominal pain.
Our medical guide details and compares the best diets to manage IBS symptoms.
Lifestyle adjustments for IBS
For most people, the connection between stress levels and digestive issues may seem strange, however, new research has found that the gut is directly influenced by stress via what we call the gut-brain axis. Stress is widely regarded as a known IBS trigger, managing and reducing your stress levels can significantly improve your symptoms.
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques
Practices like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help to reduce your stress levels.
Regular physical exercise
Exercise can reduce the body's natural stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline. Exercise also helps to produce natural chemicals in the brain called endorphins, widely regarded as the body's own painkiller and mood elevators.
Regular exercise also has the benefit of aiding digestive motility, which can help relieve constipation and bloating. Exercise can be light or moderate.
Include moderate activities like walking, swimming, or cycling. Yoga and Pilates can also be beneficial. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological therapy that has proven effective in managing various conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). CBT focuses on how we channel and deal with negative thoughts, it’s those negative thoughts that can initiate changes in the gut, causing constipation, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain.
Cognitive behavioural therapy may sound like an unusual treatment option for a condition that causes physical pain in your gut, however; it is also one of the most effective treatments with 1 in 3 experiencing clinically improved symptoms, meaning it also has a higher success rate than other treatments for functional gastrointestinal disorders.
Poor sleep can worsen IBS symptoms. 40% of IBS patients report difficulty falling or staying asleep. Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern/schedule and aim to go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning. This routing will help to regulate your sleep cycle and ensure that your sleeping pattern is improved.
Are there any alternative therapies for IBS?
As we learn more about IBS, its triggers, causes and symptoms, there are a host of newer alternative therapies which have been shown to help in the management of IBS.
Gut microbiome health test
There is growing evidence to suggest that gut dysbiosis may be one of the main causes of IBS. A gut microbiome health test kit can identify if you are at risk of developing IBS by measuring your microbiome and highlighting gut dysbiosis, caused by a lack of bacteria diversity within your gut microbiome. A gut microbiome test kit can tell you what foods, nutrients and supplements you need to improve the bacteria within your gut, thus reducing your risk of IBS and experiencing symptoms.
Beneficial can encourage the growth of good gut bacteria which can help improve the overall symptoms of IBS and even reduce the risk of developing IBS altogether.
Known for its antispasmodic properties, it can relieve abdominal pain and bloating. Peppermint oil is typically found in many IBS treatments.
Some people report improvement in their IBS symptoms with acupuncture treatments. A study concluded that acupuncture can significantly help to control IBS symptoms.
Is there an IBS cure?
Currently, there is no cure for IBS, however, this does not mean that you will need to suffer for the rest of your life as there are ways to help reduce and even prevent the symptoms of IBS from occurring.
There are plenty of clinically proven techniques to help you manage the condition effectively, adopting a combination of diet modifications, lifestyle changes, and medical treatments (if appropriate) is key to improving your experience and quality of life with IBS.
IBS treatment plans should be highly personalised, the key is identifying what works for you since IBS is highly personal in what triggers it and how it responds to treatments.
Medications for IBS
Medications are typically a last resort when it comes to treating IBS unless your symptoms are causing you severe pain. Your doctor will usually recommend trying to identify triggers and suggest dietary and lifestyle changes before prescribing or recommending treatment.
Several medications can be used to treat various symptoms of IBS based on their severity.
Traditionally for IBS with constipation (IBS-C), however specific types of laxatives (those high in soluble fibre) can also be beneficial for mixed IBS (IBS-M).
To reduce muscle spasms and contractions within the gut, reducing abdominal pain.
This type of medication adds bulk to the stool and helps to reduce the symptoms of diarrhoea, ideal for those with diarrhoea-predominant IBS (IBS-D).
Managing IBS often requires a highly personalised approach combining diet, lifestyle changes, medications, and alternative therapies. Understanding and addressing individual triggers and symptoms is essential to managing the condition effectively. While there is no cure for IBS, with the right strategies, most people can find significant relief and lead a normal, active life.