Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Going Natural continued...
Exercise: In an English study of IBS sufferers, those who walked or did other moderate workouts for 30 minutes five times a week reported a significant improvement in constipation symptoms. Exercise stimulates contractions of the bowel, encouraging the passing of gas and wastes.
And don't forget diet: For up to 65 percent of IBS patients, flare-ups are linked to food — especially fatty and greasy items, chocolate, carbonated beverages, and alcohol. Still, because different foods kick up symptoms in different sufferers, there's no one-size-fits-all "IBS diet plan." To see what sets off your troubles, keep a food and symptom diary for several weeks, then confirm any suspicious item by eliminating it from your diet for a few weeks. You might want to do the same with dairy products; about 35 percent of IBS sufferers are lactose-intolerant and develop IBS-like symptoms after eating dairy.
When You Need Something Stronger
If OTC and natural strategies aren't helping enough, ask your doctor about prescription medications.
Antispasmodics for cramping: These drugs act on the smooth muscle of the colon, easing intestinal spasms and pain for about one in five IBS sufferers, a recent review of 22 trials showed. The antispasmodic that had the best record was hyoscine. Since it's not generally available in the U.S., try the similar hyoscyamine (Anaspaz, Levsin). Downsides: Antispasmodics can make you dizzy and blur your vision, so don't drive until you know how you react.
Antidepressants for pain: About 25 percent of IBS patients find that antidepressants (usually given at lower doses than those prescribed for mood disorders) relieve pain. The best type, says Dr. Talley, depends on your major symptom: If you suffer from diarrhea, you may do better with an older tricyclic (Elavil, Norpramin, Tofranil), but if you have constipation, a newer SSRI (Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft) may be more effective.
Antidiarrheal drug: If the runs are severe, your doctor can prescribe alosetron (Lotronex), which blocks the action of the brain chemical serotonin on the intestine, reducing cramping, pain, and urgency. Because in rare cases the drug can cause a serious drop in blood flow to the intestine, it's prescribed under a closely monitored FDA program.