Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome


Dr Milap C. Nahata, Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, 500 W. 12th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA. Tel.: +1 614 292 2472; fax: +1 614 292 1335; e-mail:


What is known and Objective:  The complexity and diversity of irritable bowel syndrome’s (IBS) presentation make treatment difficult. Although there are reviews and guidelines for treating IBS, they focus on the efficacy of medications for IBS symptoms using high-priority endpoints, leaving those of lower priority largely unreported. Therefore, the aim of this review is to provide a comprehensive evidence-based review of the efficacy of medications to treat IBS symptoms, reported by IBS subtype, including secondary symptom endpoints that are often underreported.

Methods:  A review of PubMed for articles published through December 2009 using the keywords: ‘irritable bowel syndrome’, ‘therapeutics’, ‘antidiarrhoeals’, ‘laxatives’, ‘loperamide’, ‘dietary fibre’, ‘psyllium’, ‘calcium polycarbophil’, ‘bulking agents’, ‘lubiprostone’, ‘antidepressant agents, tricyclics’ and its representative entities, ‘serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ and its representative entities, ‘dicyclomine’, hyoscyamine’, ‘peppermint oil’, ‘parasympatholytics’ and its representative entities, ‘rifaximin’, ‘pregabalin’, ‘gabapentin’, ‘clonidine’, ‘octreotide’, ‘atropine’ and ‘probiotics’ is provided. Placebo-controlled trials were evaluated for the strength of evidence supporting the efficacy of each medication for explicit IBS symptoms. The efficacy of each medication for the symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, stool form, mucus, urgency, feeling of incomplete evacuation, flatulence, frequency, or borborgymi and overall symptoms are reported by IBS subtype.

Results and Discussion:  The literature search identified 58 placebo-controlled trials of the efficacy of medications for treating IBS symptoms, which were critically evaluated and reported. The available studies suggest improvement in various IBS symptoms with loperamide, fibre supplements, lubiprostone, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs), antispasmotics, rifaximin, pregabalin, gabapentin, clonidine, octreotide and probiotic treatments.

What is new and Conclusion:  This review is the first to compile the available evidence on the efficacy of the various pharmacological treatments for IBS on the basis of IBS subtype and specific symptoms. This evidence is limited and more well-designed studies are required to better inform therapeutic decision-making in the management of this difficult syndrome.