What Are the Different Types of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Medications?

A. Pasbjerg

There is a variety of different irritable bowel syndrome medications that patients can choose from, and the right one typically depends on their most troubling symptom. For those who have problems with diarrhea, anti-diarrheal medications, alosetron, and cholestyramine may help. Lubiprostone, different types of laxatives, and fiber supplements are often recommended for people who suffer most from constipation. Anti-spasmodic drugs, antidepressants, and in extreme cases narcotics can help ease abdominal pain, cramping, and spasms, though antidepressants should be prescribed carefully, as different types can affect bowel function in ways that may worsen a patient's irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Doctors may prescribe antidepressants to slow down movement of the digestive tract.
Doctors may prescribe antidepressants to slow down movement of the digestive tract.

Several different irritable bowel syndrome medications are indicated for use in patients who suffer mainly from diarrhea. Diphenoxylate and loperamide are both anti-diarrheal medications that work well for many patients by slowing the function of the intestines and bowels while increasing the amount of fluid absorbed by the intestines. Cholestyramine is a bile binding agent that keeps bile acids from stimulating the colon into passing stools too quickly. Alosetron is another medication, approved only for women, that can also slow passage of stool through the bowels, though it is only used in severe cases as it can have some serious side effects.

IBS symptoms may include abdominal cramps.
IBS symptoms may include abdominal cramps.

Patients who have trouble with constipation typically use a different group of irritable bowel syndrome medications. Lubiprostone, another drug approved only for women, can help ease the passage of bowel movements by increasing the amount of fluid in the small intestine. Laxatives, both the osmotic type that help the intestine absorb extra fluid and the stimulant type that make the intestines process more quickly, may be used. Polyethylene glycol makes bowel movements softer by increasing the amount of fluid they contain. For some patients, a simple fiber supplement may be sufficient to ease constipation.

There are a number of different irritable bowel syndrome medications.
There are a number of different irritable bowel syndrome medications.

For some patients, irritable bowel syndrome medications may be necessary to reduce painful spasms or cramps in the intestines and colon. Anti-spasmodics, also called anticholinergics, are typically taken before meals to help ease the bowel's response to food passing through. Those in extreme pain may need narcotic painkillers to ease their symptoms in certain cases. Some types of antidepressants also work well to decrease activity in the digestive tract; they may also help with feelings of depression that can accompany the disease. Tricyclic antidepressants often work best for patients with diarrhea, as they tend to cause constipation, while a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, may help reduce constipation along with cramping.

Some irritable bowel syndrome medication reduces or prevents spasms in the colon.
Some irritable bowel syndrome medication reduces or prevents spasms in the colon.

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