Pharmacologic therapy for the irritable bowel syndrome

Talley, Nicholas J.
April 2003
American Journal of Gastroenterology;Apr2003, Vol. 98 Issue 4, p750
Academic Journal
The management of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) remains unsatisfactory. For abdominal pain, antispasmodics are, at best, of only modest efficacy. Tricyclic antidepressants in low dose are useful (with the number needed to treat being three), but side effects and patient concerns regarding use of a centrally acting agent for depression remain limitations. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are of uncertain efficacy in IBS. Opioid agonists, especially loperamide, are useful for diarrhea but not for pain in IBS; rebound constipation also remains a problem. Bile salt sequestering agents are not of established value in IBS but seem to be useful clinically in a small group of IBS patients with diarrhea. Aloestron, a 5HT3 antagonist, should be reserved, if available, for women with severe diarrhea predominant IBS who have failed to respond to conventional therapy, and started at a low dose. Fiber and bulking agents may help constipation in some trials, but the evidence that they are efficacious in IBS is equivocal; they are frequently prescribed as first-line drugs for IBS regardless of the primary bowel disturbance but often increase bloating, gas, and pain. Laxatives are not of established value in IBS but are often taken by patients with constipation predominant IBS. Tegaserod, a partial 5HT4 agonist, is now available in the United States and other countries for use in women with IBS whose primary bowel symptom is constipation; its efficacy in men and in those with alternating bowel habits is unknown. Probiotics are of uncertain efficacy. Chinese herbal medicine data are insufficient. Other new drugs in development include the cholecystokinin antagonists and novel visceral analgesics. Both current and potential therapies for IBS are reviewed in this article.


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