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Medications & complementary treatments for IBS

Your doctor may prescribe or recommend medicines to help treat your IBS symptoms.

Antispasmodics

These include medicines such as mebeverine, hyoscine butylbromide, and peppermint oil capsules.

These help to relax the muscle in your digestive system, which can help to reduce stomach pain and cramping. You can only get mebeverine on prescription from your doctor, but you can buy peppermint oil over the counter at your pharmacy. Don't take peppermint oil if you have heartburn, as it can make this worse.

Fibre supplements

psylliumThese are also called bulking-forming laxatives or bulking agents and include Konsyl-D, Mucilax, Metamucil, IsoGel, Normacol, and Benefibre.

A fibre supplement can help if you don't get enough fibre in your diet and you are constipated. It will make your poo denser and softer, which makes it easier to pass. But fibre supplements can make bloating and wind worse for some people.

You can get fibre supplements on prescription, or you can buy them over the counter at the pharmacy. You can also buy some fibre supplements at the supermarket.

Follow your doctor or pharmacist's advice for how to take a fibre supplement, or follow the directions on the label. Make sure you drink at least eight cups of fluid a day. This helps to stop the fibre supplement causing a blockage in your bowels. It may take two to three days before the fibre supplement helps your bowels to move.

If the fibre supplement doesn't help your constipation you may need a different type of laxative. Ask your doctor what is most appropriate for you.

Anti-diarrhoea medication such as loperamide

Anti-diarrhoea medicines such as loperamide work by slowing down how quickly poo moves through your bowel. They can also make your poo less watery.

Low-dose antidepressants

Antidepressants such as amitriptyline or paroxetine were originally designed to treat depression but some can also help reduce IBS symptoms such as stomach pain and cramping.

Probiotics and other treatments

Probiotics are "good" bacteria that normally live in your bowels. They are also in certain foods, such as yoghurt, and some dietary supplements. Some people find that taking probiotics regularly helps to ease their IBS symptoms. However, there is little evidence to support this, and we don't know exactly how much they help or which types are most effective.

If you want to try probiotics, you should take it for at least four weeks to see if you get better. You can buy probiotics at your pharmacy. Follow the directions on the label. You may need to keep them in the fridge

Some people claim treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, and homoeopathy help with their IBS, but there is no scientific evidence these treatments work.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by GP liaison, Gastroenterology, Canterbury DHB. Updated March 2017

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Review key: HIIBS-27995