Current gut-directed therapies for irritable bowel syndrome

  • Howard Y. Chang
  • Eoin C. Kelly
  • Anthony J. Lembo

Opinion statement

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that can present with a wide array of symptoms that make treatment difficult. Current therapies are directed at relieving symptoms of abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Pharmacologic agents used to treat IBS-associated pain include myorelaxants, peppermint oil, and peripherally acting opiates. Dicyclomine and hyoscyamine, the two myorelaxants available in the United States, have not been proven effective in reducing abdominal pain in patients with IBS. The efficacy of peppermint oil is debated, but methodological problems with existing studies preclude definitive judgment. Loperamide is ineffective for relief of abdominal pain. For IBS patients with excessive abdominal bloating, a small number of studies suggest that bacterial eradication with gut-directed antibiotics and bacterial reconstitution with nonpathogenic probiotics may reduce flatulence. For constipation-predominant (C-IBS) symptoms, current treatment options include fiber supplementation, polyethylene glycol, and tegaserod. Soluble fibers (ispaghula, calcium polycarbophil, psyllium) are more effective than insoluble fibers (wheat bran, corn fiber) in alleviating global symptoms and relieving constipation, although fiber in general has marginal benefit in treatment of overall IBS symptoms. Polyethylene glycol increases bowel frequency in chronic constipation, but its overall efficacy against IBS is unclear. Tegaserod, a 5-HT4 agonist, demonstrates superiority over placebo in improving bowel frequency and stool consistency and alleviating abdominal pain and bloating in women with C-IBS. Overall global symptoms are modestly improved with tegaserod when compared with placebo. Additional agents under investigation for C-IBS include the ClC2 chloride channel opener lubiprostone, μ-opioid receptor antagonist alvimopan, and 5-HT4 agonist renzapride. For diarrhea-predominant (D-IBS) symptoms, available therapies include loperamide, alosetron, and clonidine. Alosetron, a 5-HT3 antagonist, is superior to placebo for reducing bowel frequency, improving stool consistency, and relieving abdominal pain in women with D-IBS. However, alosetron is available under a restricted license because of concerns for ischemic colitis and severe constipation necessitating colectomy. Clonidine may be helpful in alleviating global symptoms for D-IBS patients.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome Main Side Effect Main Drug Interaction Loperamide Ischemic Colitis 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Current Science Inc 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Howard Y. Chang
  • Eoin C. Kelly
  • Anthony J. Lembo
    • 1
  1. 1.Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard University Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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