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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) With Constipation

People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation often find relief from a combination of therapies. Health care providers may suggest changes in diet, exercise, and stress management, as well as medication. Some doctors may also recommend behavioral therapies such as relaxation, biofeedback, or hypnosis.

The goal of IBS treatment, after all, is to do more than just ease bowel problems. It is also to soothe the stomachaches, pain, and bloating that can come with IBS.

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No matter which therapy you consider, remember this: Never attempt to treat yourself for IBS without consulting with your doctor. There are health risks associated with taking laxatives and supplements regularly to ease IBS-related constipation. It is important to speak with your health care providers about safety and what's right for you.

Here are some common IBS treatment strategies that you and your doctor may consider:

IBS and Diet

Dietary changes can help many people with IBS manage their symptoms. Fiber reduces constipation by softening the stool, making it easier to pass. Yet few of us come close to consuming the 20 grams to 35 grams of fiber a day recommended for healthy adults.

If you suffer IBS with constipation, gradually introduce high-fiber foods into your diet, says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) Guide to Better Digestion.

Good sources of fiber include whole-grain bread and cereals, fruits, vegetables, and beans. Dried plums, prune juice, ground flaxseed, and water also help loosen bowels.

Stay away from coffee, carbonated drinks, and alcohol. They can slow the passage of stool. So can refined foods such as chips, cookies, and white rice.

Remember, different foods affect each person with IBS in different ways. Some people develop diarrhea and gas when they eat too much fiber, or certain high-fiber foods. So, it's a good idea to keep an IBS symptom journal to figure out which foods your digestive system can handle. Just jot down your IBS symptoms, then note the type and amount of foods you ate during the meals before symptoms appeared.

Fiber Supplements for IBS

Some people use bulking agents, commonly known as fiber supplements, to treat IBS with constipation. These include:

  • Wheat bran
  • Corn fiber
  • Calcium polycarbophil (Fibercon)
  • Psyllium (ispaghula husk, Metamucil, Fiberall, and others)

These supplements may reduce constipation, but they do not appear to help with other IBS symptoms such as stomach aches, discomfort, and swelling. In fact, extra doses of fiber may worsen abdominal pain, bloating, and discomfort in some people with IBS.

"You'd like to think that fiber works for everybody, but it doesn't," says J. Patrick Waring, MD, a gastroenterologist at Digestive Health Care of Georgia.

Laxatives for IBS

Many people with IBS take laxatives to help them go to the bathroom. But laxatives may offer limited relief and can be harmful if taken regularly.

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