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Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2024 | Last updated: May 2024

The goal of treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is to manage symptoms and, in turn, improve quality of life. Treatment generally includes a combination of therapies, and there are several medicines that may be used to alleviate symptoms. Different kinds of drugs that may be prescribed for IBS symptoms include:1

Therapeutic approaches to IBS treatment can also be classified as:2

  • Peripherally acting – therapies that affect the intestinal symptoms of IBS
  • Centrally acting – therapies that affect the entire body

Peripherally acting therapies

Peripherally acting strategies target the dominant symptom of IBS. People who have IBS with constipation (IBS-C) may try adding fiber to their diet or using drugs that treat IBS-C such as:

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There are also gut-specific antibiotics, such as Xifaxan (rifaximin), that may help people with IBS who complain of gas and bloating symptoms.2

Centrally acting therapies

Centrally acting agents affect the entire body. They may be used along with peripherally acting therapies. Centrally acting therapies include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines.2

Studies have shown a link between IBS and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A person with anxiety or depression may experience IBS symptoms due to the colon in part being controlled by the nervous system. Or a person with IBS may feel more anxious or depressed with the stress and frustration of dealing with IBS symptoms.1,3

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs promote overall well-being and may also provide relief from IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain, intestinal transit, or motility.4

Potential side effects

Side effects can vary depending on the specific drug you are taking. Talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of any medicines you are taking. Talk to your doctor about what to expect when taking medicines to treat IBS. You also should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when taking any medicines.

Before beginning treatment for IBS, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

Additional treatment options for IBS

Medicine can help treat some of the symptoms of IBS. Many people with IBS find they need to try several different treatment options before finding the approach or combination of approaches that work best to manage their symptoms. This trial-and-error process can be frustrating. It may be comforting to know there are several options available.

In addition to medicine, people can try a variety of lifestyle approaches, such as:

Some people have also gotten relief from using complementary or alternative therapies.

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.