Who treats irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

If you are having symptoms and think you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you should talk to your primary care physician or other healthcare provider. Your doctor may treat you or may refer you to a gastroenterologist.

A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the digestive system. These diseases include, among others: IBS, colorectal cancer, liver disease, swallowing and esophageal disorders, and pancreas disorders.

In some cases of IBS, the symptoms may not respond to the medical treatment prescribed by the doctor. In these cases, the patient may be referred for psychosocial therapies. Some patients may improve with counseling and alternative treatments such as hypnosis and biofeedback.

How can my healthcare provider help with managing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Your healthcare provider can:

  • Make sure there is no other cause for your symptoms
  • Order blood tests or X-rays if needed
  • Offer appropriate medicines
  • Suggest dietary therapies
  • Answer any questions you have about stress and other IBS triggers
  • Advise you about calcium supplements, if needed
  • Offer support as you gain control over IBS

How is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) treated?

Nearly all people with IBS can be helped, but treatment should be individualized for the patient since there is no specific treatment that works for everyone. Usually, with a few basic changes in diet and activities, IBS will improve over time. Here are some steps you can take to help reduce symptoms of IBS:

  • Increase fiber in your diet (found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts).
  • Add supplemental fiber to your diet (there are several types such as Metamucil, Citrucel, Benefiber).
  • Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Avoid caffeine (found in coffee, chocolate, teas, and sodas).
  • Learn to relax, either by getting more exercise or by reducing stress in your life.
  • Try limiting how much milk and cheese you consume, since lactose intolerance can be more common in patients with IBS. Eat smaller meals more often or smaller portions. However, if you have IBS and are concerned about your calcium intake, you can try other sources of calcium, including broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, tofu, yogurt, sardines and salmon with bones, calcium-fortified milk and breads, calcium supplements, and some antacid tablets.
  • Keep a record of the foods you eat so you can figure out which foods bring on bouts of IBS. Common food "triggers" of IBS are red peppers, green onions, red wine, wheat, and cow's milk.
  • Anti-depressant medications may be an option if you have significant abdominal pain or discomfort, as well as psychological distress such as depression or anxiety.
  • Talk to your health care provider if your symptoms persist. He or she can perform an examination and order tests to make sure that there is no other cause for your symptoms.

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