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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) With Constipation

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.

Laxatives work well for occasional constipation, but they don't treat all IBS symptoms such as stomach aches and bloating.

Also, some laxatives can be habit-forming and harmful in the long run.

In stimulant laxatives, the ingredient senna triggers muscles in the bowels to contract, moving stool through the bowel. Over time, the chemical can damage nerves in the colon wall. Eventually, these laxatives may stop working in people who take them regularly. Stimulant laxatives include Dulcolax, Senokot, castor oil, and the plant cascara sagrada.

Other laxatives, called osmotic laxatives, pull water back into the colon to soften stool, which makes the stool easier to pass. But research has found that they don't help relieve IBS symptoms other than constipation. In fact, they may actually worsen other symptoms. Side effects include diarrhea, dehydration, and bloating.

Unlike stimulant laxatives, osmotics are considered fairly safe for long-term use. Osmotic laxatives include Lactulose, which must be prescribed by a doctor, and Miralax which is available over the counter.

These types of medications "are fine for a little while, but if you find you need to stay on them, you really just need to make sure you've got the right diagnosis," says Waring. It's important to make sure symptoms aren't signs of another disease.

Prescription IBS Drugs

Amitiza is a drug that has been approved by the FDA to treat IBS with constipation in women. The FDA says the drug was not approved for men because studies have not fully demonstrated its effectiveness in men. Common side effects for Amitiza include nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. 

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