Help for IBS: Medications, Diet, and More
Doctors use very low doses of a certain type of the drug, called tricyclic antidepressants, to treat IBS. "Sometimes patients get upset about being prescribed antidepressants," Kuo says, "but actually these low doses are not used for depression, they're used for chronic pain."
They can cause constipation, though, so they’re best for people with IBS-D. "We don't want to make one symptom better by making another symptom worse," Kuo says. "Instead, we try to use drugs' side effects to our advantage."
Another type of antidepressant, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can cause diarrhea, so these are best for people with IBS-C. Not only do they treat pain, but they may also relieve the anxiety that can come with bad cases of IBS.
Stress Relief and Other Therapy
Stress can trigger IBS symptoms or make them worse. And since IBS itself can make you anxious and frustrated, the cycle can go on and on. Kuo's research shows that relaxation, through practices like mindful meditation and deep breathing, can relieve symptoms.
Talk therapy can teach you tools to handle IBS stress and help you find a more positive attitude about your health -- which may, in turn, help you feel better.
Hypnosis by a licensed hypnotherapist may also ease your anxiety about IBS. The procedure works for many people with few side effects. But it doesn't help everyone, and insurance doesn’t always cover it.
Some people try acupuncture for IBS, too. Kuo says there's no good evidence that it works. But it's generally safe, he says, and some people find it helpful.
"If patients believe a treatment -- any treatment -- is going to help them, that can really make a difference," Kuo says. "Many people are so frustrated and pessimistic, thinking they've tried everything. But in reality, they just haven't tried a more individual, carefully thought-out approach."