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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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Combination of Therapies Offers Help for IBS

Combining conventional and complementary therapies may provide relief for irritable bowel syndrome sufferers.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

If you -- like more than 50 million Americans -- suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you know all too well the symptoms of the disorder: abdominal bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea, and/or constipation.

IBS is a functional disorder one which has no anatomical or structural abnormalities. While there is no identifiable chemical or physical problem it can wreak havoc in your everyday life. Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS, but there are therapies available to make coping with the situation easier.

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Medication and Dietary Changes

Conventional treatment for IBS may involve medication and dietary changes, says gastroenterologist Joseph Brasco, co-author of Restoring Your Digestive Health. Prescription medication to relieve spasm for people with abdominal pain, such as Bentyl and Levsin, relaxes the muscle and prevents spasms from occurring and are prescribed frequently for IBS to help with diarrhea.

The drug Zelnorm is available for some patients under tight restrictions. The drug was pulled from the market in March 2007 because of evidence that it raises the risk of heart attacks and stroke. But in July 2007 the FDA ruled that Zelnorm may be used by some patients in critical need of the drug who do not have heart problems. The FDA is restricting Zelnorm's use to the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) and chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) in women younger than 55 who meet specific guidelines.

For those whose IBS is accompanied by constipation laxatives and fiber are frequently recommended.

Dietary changes play a significant role in managing IBS, says Brasco. Many people with IBS are either lactose- or fructose-intolerant. Dairy products, and foods and beverages (such as soda) sweetened with fructose can trigger episodes of diarrhea and should be limited.

Other sugars such as maltose and sucrose can also aggravate IBS. These sugars -- found in foods such as bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes -- are hard to digest, says Brasco. They pass into the bowel undigested where they are used by intestinal bacteria and this can lead to gas, bloating, and cramps (and research shows, to acid reflux as well). "Reducing these foods in your diet can make a difference," Brasco says.

What you should eat is lots of fiber, says Brasco. "Fiber is the cornerstone of dietary management, because it regulates the bowel," he explains. Fiber reduces IBS symptoms -- especially constipation. Examples of high-fiber foods are apples, peaches, raw broccoli, raw carrots, cabbage, kidney beans, and whole-grain cereal.

Dietary Supplements

Brasco also recommends dietary supplements for his IBS patients, specifically digestive enzymes and probiotics. Digestive enzymes -- which usually contain such ingredients as amylase, lactase, protease, and lipase -- enhance the digestive process, easing not only the symptoms of IBS but also chronic indigestion. They can be found in health food stores and some pharmacies (or direct-to-consumer through pharmaceutical companies), and can be bought without a prescription.

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