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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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Medicine may be used along with lifestyle changes to manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It may be prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, diarrhea, or constipation that does not respond to home treatment.

Medicine can help relieve your symptoms enough to prevent them from interfering with your daily activities. It may not be possible to eliminate your symptoms.

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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In most cases, the choice of medicine is based on your most troublesome symptom. For example, if diarrhea is the most bothersome symptom, using antidiarrheals or anticholinergics may be helpful.

Few medicines have proved consistently helpful, and all medicines have side effects. So medicine should be used for specific symptoms that disrupt your normal daily activities.

If you also have another illness, such as depression, that triggers symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, medicine for that illness may be needed.

Diarrhea medicines

Medicines that may be used to treat severe diarrhea that does not improve with home treatment include:

  • Antidiarrheals, including atropine and diphenoxylate (such as Lomotil) and loperamide (such as Imodium).
  • Bile acid binding agents, including cholestyramine (such as Prevalite).
  • Rifaximin (Xifaxan), which has been shown to help people who have diarrhea and bloating as their worst symptoms. In one study, people who had fewer symptoms after 2 weeks of taking rifaximin continued to have fewer symptoms for 10 weeks after stopping the medicine. But rifaximin is very expensive, and more research needs to be done. There are still many questions about this treatment, including who will get the most benefit, how long the effect will last, and whether retreatment will work when symptoms come back.5
  • Alosetron (Lotronex), which is used for some women who have severe diarrhea. This medicine has been shown to contribute to ischemic bowel disease. Specific guidelines for the use of alosetron require doctors who prescribe it to sign a certificate and patients to sign a consent form.

Constipation medicines

There are many medicines for severe constipation that doesn't improve with home treatment. Most of these medicines are available without a prescription and are okay to take once in a while. Check with your doctor before you use any of these medicines every day for constipation. Medicines for constipation include:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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