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Senior Life: Tips for Healthy Living - Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder in which abdominal pain is associated with a range of symptoms. Typically these symptoms include intermittent abdominal pain accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, or alternating episodes of both.  Other symptoms may also be present. IBS affects up to 10 to 15% of adults and has a significant worldwide prevalence.  Although IBS is not associated with an increased risk for life-threatening illness, it is associated with a significant health care and economic burden. Studies have shown that IBS patients have an increased number of outpatient health care visits, diagnostic tests, and surgeries.  IBS can also severely compromise a person’s quality of life and is the second most common cause for missing work due to illness, second only to the common cold. 

What are the symptoms of IBS? 

  • Abdominal pain is the key symptom and is associated with a change in bowel habits

    Individuals with IBS may either have mostly diarrhea (IBS-D), mostly constipation

   (IBS-C), or “mixed pattern” in which they experience both diarrhea and constipation


  • Pain, often relieved by having a bowel movement and can at times be worsened  

     after  eating

  • Bloating (a sensation of fullness in the belly)

  • Urgency (the need to use a restroom in a hurry)

  • Mucus (white or yellow liquid) in the stool

  • Sensation of incompletely passing stools

How is IBS diagnosed? 

The first step in making a positive diagnosis of IBS is for the health care provider to identify if an individual has the symptoms of IBS. The next important step is to look for signs and symptoms that are suggestive of a condition other than IBS, such as 

inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease.


Treatment for IBS

Treatment of IBS focuses on relieving symptoms so that you can live as normally 

as possible.

  • Lifestyle changes are the most effective therapy for IBS

          • Evaluate any dietary or stress-related factors that may be related to symptoms   

            and discuss these with a health care provider.  If certain foods set off or worsen 

            symptoms, reduce or avoid them.  If the abdominal discomfort or pain occurs 

            after eating, it may be helpful to eat smaller and more frequent meals.

Increased stress may result in the onset or worsening of IBS symptoms and associated non-bowel symptoms such as fatigue or low energy.  Proper rest and exercise can help reduce stress levels and positively influence IBS.

Drinking plenty of water, eating high-fiber foods, and exercising regularly can also help.  

• Medications are used only for moderate to severe IBS that affects a person’s 

    quality of life        

       • Fiber supplements: Taking a supplement such as psyllium (Metamucil) with 

          fluids may help control constipation.

        • Laxatives: If fiber doesn't help constipation, your doctor may recommend 

          over-the-counter laxatives, such as magnesium hydroxide (Phillips' Milk of 

          Magnesia®) or polyethylene glycol (Miralax®).

        • Anti-diarrheal medications: Over-the-counter medications, such as loperamide   

         (Imodium A-D®), can help control diarrhea. Your doctor might also prescribe a  

          bile acid binder, such as cholestyramine (Prevalite®), colestipol (Colestid®), or 

          colesevelam (Welchol®). These medications can cause bloating.

        • Anticholinergic medications. Medications such as dicyclomine (Bentyl®) can 

          help relieve painful bowel spasms. They are sometimes prescribed for people 

          who have bouts of diarrhea. These medications are generally safe but can 

          cause constipation, dry mouth, and blurred vision.

        • Anti-anxiety medications: These can be helpful for some people with IBS. 

        • There are some medications that are specifically used for IBS. These include 

           alosetron (Lotronex®), eluxadoline (Viberzi®), rifaximin (Xifaxan®), 

           lubiprostone (Amitiza®), linaclotide (Linzess®). 

If you have symptoms or questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. An accurate diagnosis from your clinician is the starting point for appropriate and safe treatment.


International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. “About IBS''. Retrieved from:

Mayo Clinic. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Retrieved from:

Healthline “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” Retrieved from:

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