Meet Your IBS Medical Team

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on September 21, 2023
3 min read

When you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), there's no one-size-fits-all treatment. What works well for some people might not work well for you. You may need a combination of treatments, such as dietary changes, medications, therapy, and alternative medicine.

You also may need to see several different medical experts to get the care you need. Your team may include the following.

The doctors typically involved with IBS treatment include:

  • Family medicine doctor
  • Internist
  • Gastroenterologist

Your first visit might be to a family medicine doctor or an internist. Family medicine doctors treat children and adults. Internists treat only adults. You also may see a gastroenterologist who specializes in problems with the digestive system such as IBS.

Any of these doctors may:

  • Check your symptoms and run tests to make sure you have IBS
  • Help you understand what might trigger your IBS
  • Manage your IBS treatment
  • Prescribe medicine or suggest over-the-counter drugs to help with symptoms
  • Suggest changes to your diet

Sometimes, your internist or family doctor can treat IBS on their own. If they can't, they'll likely refer you to a gastroenterologist. If so, try to find one with a lot of experience treating IBS. It can make a difference.

Stress, anxiety, depression, and other strong emotions trigger IBS for some people. So you may get help from therapists, such as:

  • Behavioral therapists
  • Psychotherapists
  • Psychologists

There's a strong link between your mental health and the health of your gut. If you can improve your mental well-being, like by better managing stress, it may help with IBS.

Common treatments that a therapist can help with include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy. CBT can help you change your behavior by understanding the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • Hypnotherapy, or hypnosis, which can teach you how to relax your body, including the muscles of your colon. If you get hypnosis, make sure to work only with a licensed medical professional, like a psychologist, who has experience with IBS.
  • Psychodynamic therapy, another kind of talk therapy that looks at how your emotions affect IBS. You'll learn ways to relax and better manage your stress.

For many with IBS, certain foods can be triggers. Your doctor may suggest changes to your diet, like not eating gassy foods or some kinds of carbs. You might also need to eat more fiber and foods that have probiotics -- good bacteria that support your gut.

It may help to talk to a dietitian or nutritionist. They can help you figure out which foods to stay away from and make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need. You can also check in with them as you go along and ask questions about your specific needs. 

The difference between the two is training. Dieticians are also nutritionists but have undergone more training and completed licensing requirements.

One of the challenges with IBS can be that you never know when you're going to need a bathroom. A physical therapist might be able to teach you how to retrain your bowels to give you more control.

As part of this training, you may get biofeedback. If you do, you'll be connected to a device that gives you information to help you understand what's happening with your body. Based on that information, you can make changes -- like learning to control the muscles that affect your bowels.

Other healthcare professionals may be trained to use biofeedback as well, including doctors, nurses, and occupational therapists.

When it comes to treating IBS with options outside of conventional medicine, the evidence isn't always clear. But some people with IBS find certain alternative treatments (CAM) helpful. Some medical centers even use these approaches alongside traditional medicine. You may find it helpful to see a licensed:

  • Acupuncturist, who may help with problems related to IBS, such as anxiety or sleeplessness
  • Herbalist, who may give you herbs that might relieve your symptoms
  • Massage therapist, who can ease stress and anxiety
  • Probiotics, are supplements and food additives, most often used to promote healthy digestion.

Make sure all your providers know about the other members of your IBS health team and all your treatments.