The typical medical approach for treating IBS involves either doing nothing, or guessing at the problem and trying different medications. Many of the patients that come to the IBS Treatment Center have been on numerous medications – none of which has solved their problem (or they wouldn’t be in our clinic in the first place)! In fact, most were not designed to treat IBS symptoms. Types of medications often prescribed for IBS include those listed in the graphic to the right.
These drugs may be prescribed as a best guess, in the hopes that the patient will experience some relief. Research continues on IBS medications, but most of the time medications fail to cure the majority of patients. There is no single cause for IBS, and there will never be just one treatment that works for everyone.
I rarely use any of these medications at my office. Other than antibiotics for bacterial overgrowth, the medications listed above have clearly demonstrated their inability to cure IBS. Even worse, almost all of these drugs have the potential to cause the symptoms of IBS! If prescribed meds do provide some relief from symptoms that of course is great — for the short term. But our goal is to end IBS symptoms for the long term. To do this we work to find the true cause of a patient’s problem, not just treat the symptoms. When the underlying cause of the IBS is discovered then it can be treated and the symptoms will end — and not just be masked by the quick fix of a prescription.
After treatment, most of our patients are ultimately able to discontinue use of any previously prescribed medications. It is usually a natural transition for a patient to cut back on the meds as they heal and begin to feel better. Without the symptoms, the need to suppress them with medications disappears.
We feel the same way about supplements that we do about prescription medications. Patients often use nutritional supplements to mask or suppress their IBS symptoms in the same way as meds. Supplements generally have less of a downside then medications, however, some patients may be spending hundreds of dollars a month on supplements and not realizing any significant benefits. A healthy diet can and should provide most people with all the necessary nutrients. Our goal is to help patients prioritize what supplements are most needed and eliminate those that are not.
We (at the IBS Treatment Center) encourage you to find the true cause of your health problem and ultimately to be as healthy as possible. Piling on medications or supplements is rarely the answer to best health. If you are suffering from any IBS or similar symptoms, we are here to help you sort through the issues. Please come and see us or leave your comments and questions below!
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.