Gastroenterologists are often baffled by irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation are very disruptive, but don’t appear to have any objective cause. (Scientists may be closer to finding a cause, however, as we have written here.) This can make it difficult to treat them, although doctors do prescribe medications to relieve the symptoms. Gastroenterologists may refer to this as a “functional” disorder, meaning that the digestive tract doesn’t function properly even though they can’t figure out why.
Treating Irritable Bowel Symptoms by Accident:
Q. I suffered for many years with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). At my annual physical my cholesterol was a little high, so my doctor put me on fenofibrate to see if that would help. Within a week I no longer had IBS symptoms.
After two years, I still have no IBS. My doctor was surprised but said she would mention it to other doctors.
A. We were a bit surprised too, since we had not heard this before. An online search uncovered a patent application for giving a fibric acid derivative such as fenofibrate to alleviate symptoms of IBS, so evidently others have also had benefit.
Usual Treatments for Irritable Bowel Symptoms:
Fibric acid derivatives are different from the fiber supplements that are usually recommended to help control the constipation or diarrhea that are often present with IBS. Metamucil or Citrucel are the most common products. While psyllium (Metamucil) can help lower cholesterol, the way it does so is somewhat different from fenofibrate or other fibric acid drugs.
Many people with IBS end up using loperamide (Imodium) to control diarrhea when that is a problem. Some people who suffer from IBS have diarrhea most of the time; others tend more to constipation, and a few alternate back and forth.
Doctors may occasionally prescribe an antidepressant to help with the low mood that chronic digestive difficulties may trigger. A tricyclic antidepressant such as amitriptyline (Elavil) or imipramine (Tofranil) can be somewhat constipating in addition to alleviating depression. That obviously would be more helpful for those suffering with diarrhea than those with constipation.
Non-Drug Treatments for Irritable Bowel Symptoms:
Enteric-coated peppermint oil may be used to relieve irritable bowel symptoms, especially cramping and pain. You can read more about it here. Although this seems like it might be an “old wives’ tale,” there is a certain amount of placebo-controlled research supporting its use.
Many readers report that coconut, as unsweetened flaked coconut or incorporated into coconut macaroon cookies, can calm diarrhea. Read about that approach here.
Be wary of overdoing on sweets, though. Some experts suggest that people with IBS would benefit by avoiding gluten and fermentable foods, which include fructose. Fructose is a component of nearly everything that tastes sweet, so if you decide to follow a low-FODMAPS diet, you’ll need to keep that in mind.