Understanding medications for IBS

The medications your doctor might prescribe you for IBS are likely to be based on the symptoms you’re having. The cause of IBS is not crystal clear, but appears to be due to many things: diet, stress, exercise, sleep – these are all things which can make IBS flare up.

If you’re constipated…

Your doctor may prescribe you some gentle laxatives as well as giving you dietary advice. In general, fibre increases stool bulk, but people with IBS often find that high fibre diets can increase symptoms of bloating – it’s a very difficult balance! Water is also very important in keeping stool moving through the gut.

In medicine, we can split laxatives into different groups. One of these is osmotic laxatives which means they work by drawing water into the gut. The best way to see this in action is by placing a jelly baby in water! Examples of these sorts of laxatives include lactulose and Movicol (macrogol).

Another group of laxatives is bulk-forming laxatives which are essentially fibre supplements, creating bulk in the gut and encouraging gut motility. Fybogel (ispaghula) is one such laxative.

Stimulants are used to help with constipation too. Senna and sodium docusate are examples of these and work by encouraging the muscles in your gut to get things moving!

If you’re a bit loose…

If you’re really struggling with diarrhoea, your doctor might suggest you take an anti-motility agent like Immodium (Loperamide).

If you’re getting a lot of pain and bloating…

This is when you might trial anti-spasmodics, like Buscopan (hyoscine), Mebeverine, Spasmonyl (alverine) or peppermint oil. These work by preventing spasms in the gut muscle wall. Note that because of this, they can have constipating effects.


As with all medications there may be side effects, interactions or contraindications for some people. Every body is different! Use the information here to educate yourself about your IBS and talk to your GP about starting any new medications.

I hope this has helped shed some light on what the different IBS meds do. Remember though that medications are only one way to help your IBS!

Laura x

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All images courtesy of Amazon

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