Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(5):online

See related article on irritable bowel syndrome.

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is stomach discomfort or pain that happens with constipation, diarrhea, or both.

How is it treated?

IBS can't be cured, but symptoms can be treated. There are many types of treatments, and your doctor can help you decide what is best for you. These treatments include:

Exercise: Three to five times per week.

Laxatives: Over-the-counter laxatives, such as polyethylene glycol (one brand: Miralax). This may help with constipation, but probably not with stomach pain.

Antidiarrheal medicines: Over-the-counter loperamide (one brand: Imodium). This may help with diarrhea, but probably not with stomach pain.

Probiotics: Probiotics are found in some over-the-counter supplements and yogurts. Common probiotics are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus.

Prescription medicines: Your doctor also may prescribe a medicine to help with more severe symptoms. But, these medicines could cause side effects.

Other treatments: Relaxation, hypnosis, acupuncture, herbal medicines, and peppermint oil.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physician's Patient Education Resource

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self Help and Support Group

Medline Plus

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

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