A graphic showing areas of the body where IBS affects.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Medication

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects almost 45 million Americans, mostly women, with most individuals developing this condition by their early 40s. IBS affects the large intestine and leads to a variety of symptoms including abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, gas, as well as diarrhea or constipation. You may be able to control your symptoms with diet and lifestyle changes; however, you may also need medication to get your symptoms under control. Here you will discover irritable bowel syndrome medication.

It is important to remember that while IBS is a chronic condition that can result in uncomfortable symptoms and disrupt your daily routines of life, it is not life threatening and does not make you more susceptible to other colon conditions like ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, or Crohn's disease.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Medication?

Irritable bowel syndrome medication is sometimes used to help reduce your symptoms. There are a variety of options available, including both over the counter (OTC) and prescription options, which we will outline in detail below. You will need to work closely with your doctor to identify the medication that will work best for your symptoms.

Different Kinds of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Medications

In many cases, the underlying cause of IBS is unknown. As a result, medications focus on relieving symptoms of IBS. What works best for one individual with IBS may not work well for you because there are differences in symptom patterns and responses to different types of medication. Consequently, your doctor may need to modify your treatment to address any fluctuations in your symptoms. Below we will discuss five common types of medications used to manage IBS symptoms.

Antidiarrheal Drugs

Your doctor may recommend OTC antidiarrheal medication, such as loperamide, to minimize your diarrhea. Additionally, they may prescribe a bile acid binder, such as colestipol, cholestyramine, or colesevelam, to help control your diarrhea. However, bile acid binders may cause bloating.
Taking antidiarrheal medication before going to work, participating in social activities, or dealing with stressful situations may help to manage your diarrhea and improve your quality of life.


The easiest way to manage constipation is to consume increased amounts of fiber. When constipation persists, despite increased fiber intake, your doctor may recommend a bulking agent such as psyllium. It’s important to consume bulking agents on days when symptoms are both good and bad. If constipation turns into diarrhea, reduce the amount of bulking agent. If constipation still continues, your doctor may prescribe magnesium hydroxide or polyethylene glycol to manage your symptoms.

If you are taking laxatives, be forewarned that you may experience unpleasant side effects such as bloating, flatulence and abdominal distension.

5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) Antagonists

5-HT is a neurotransmitter (serotonin) that plays an important role in gastrointestinal motor function. It engages nerve receptors inside the enteric nervous system and helps manage abdominal pain in IBS patients.

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Tricyclic Antidepressants

Half of people with IBS express some clinical signs of depression and these individuals need proper treatment, which often involves an antidepressant. However, your doctor may prescribe a low dose antidepressant for you even if you are not depressed. Antidepressants help reduce abdominal pain by stopping pain signals from reaching the brain.

Anticholinergic and Antispasmodic Medications

Drugs that get rid of muscle spasms, like anticholinergics and antispasmodics, have been found to be effective in treating abdominal pain in IBS patients by relaxing muscles and eliminating muscle contractions within the digestive tract. Several meta-analyses reveal that these medications can eliminate abdominal pain, but they are ineffective when it comes to constipation. These medications are generally considered safe, but can cause unpleasant side effects including dry mouth, constipation and blurred vision.

Specific IBS Medications

While there are many medications that your doctor may use to manage your symptoms, there are specific medications that have been approved for the treatment of IBS, including:

  • Alosetron – works by relaxing the colon and slowing waste movement through the lower bowel. Used in women with severe cases of diarrhea-predominant IBS that have not responded to other forms of treatment.
  • Eluxadoline – eases diarrhea by decreasing muscle contraction and fluid secretion in the intestine, and increasing rectal muscle tone. Side effects may include abdominal pain, nausea, constipation and pancreatitis.
  • Rifaximin – is an antibiotic that decreases overgrowth of bacteria and diarrhea.
  • Lubiprostone – increases fluid secretion in the small intestine, helping with stool passage. Used in women that have IBS with constipation that have not responded to other forms of treatment.
  • Linaclotide – increases fluid secretion in the small intestine, helping with stool passage. May cause diarrhea, so it should be taken 30 to 60 minutes prior to eating to minimize the risk of this unpleasant side effect.

Possible Future Treatments

Researchers continue to examine new therapies for IBS. A nutritional therapy called serum-derived bovine immunoglobulin (SBI), has displayed some potential as a remedy for IBS with diarrhea. Studies also reveal that enteric-coated peppermint oil, a uniquely coated pill that gradually discharges peppermint oil in the ileum, can help in easing bloating and abdominal pain associated with passing stool.

In Conclusion

Due to symptom differences among individuals with IBS and lack of a defined etiology, there is no single solution for curing IBS. IBS medications are aimed at relieving symptoms and helping patients maintain quality of life. If you suffer with IBS, it is important to work with your doctor to tailor your treatment to the specific symptoms that you experience. Often, a combination of diet and lifestyle changes, as well as taking medication can get your symptoms under control and improve your quality of life.