How to cure IBS permanently

Medically reviewed by: Liza M. Capiendo, MD

Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be a daily battle, with symptoms ranging from frustrating to downright debilitating. The constant rollercoaster of constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and depression can make your life feel like an uphill battle.

So if you’re among the 10 to 15% of Americans living with IBS, it’s only natural to wonder if there’s a cure or intervention that could stop this disorder in its tracks and help you achieve a better quality of life. 

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However, the reality is that IBS is a complex and multifaceted disorder with no one-size-fits-all remedy. Its causes remain unclear, and its symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. This makes finding a universal cure an ongoing challenge. 

Does that mean there’s no IBS cure? Let’s separate fact from fiction and explore what IBS treatment options look like. 

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a long-term, chronic disorder that affects the digestive tract. It’s characterized by symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel movement. Depending on the individual, these changes can manifest as either predominantly constipation (IBS-C), diarrhea (IBS-D), or a combination of both (IBS-M).

IBS can affect people of any age, including children and adolescents, although it’s less common in older patients. Plus, the disorder is more prevalent in women than men between 18 and 39 years of age. 

While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, bowel motility and secretory dysfunctions, increased stress levels, altered gene expression profiles, microbial imbalance, and gut nerve sensitization have all been associated with it. 

Keep in mind that IBS is different from IBD, which stands for inflammatory bowel disease and is a collective name for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Unlike IBS, IBD is an organic disease, meaning it comes with severe symptoms, causes structural damage to the gut, and is a risk factor for colon cancer.

How is the word “cure” defined by doctors?

A “cure” is a treatment that ensures you’ve eliminated the disease from your body and won’t ever get it back again. And while it carries the implication of a complete eradication of the disease, the reality is more complex. 

In many cases, medical interventions aim to provide symptom relief, slow disease progression, or achieve long-term remission instead of a permanent and absolute cure. That’s because the complexities of certain conditions, limited understanding of underlying mechanisms, and individual variations in response to treatments make cures impossible. 

However, there are instances where “cures” can be achieved, provided they meet the following criteria: 

  • Absence of recurring symptoms
  • Minimal or no side effects
  • Symptoms do not return upon discontinuation of the intervention
  • Patients report an overall improvement in general health throughout the course of care. 

Can you cure IBS permanently?

If we use the definition of “cure” above, IBS has no cure. This makes managing symptoms, improving quality of life, and controlling the disease (as much as possible) the primary goals of treatment instead of complete eradication. 

Why is there no permanent cure for IBS?

IBS doesn’t have a permanent cure because it’s a complex disease with various factors contributing to its development and symptoms. Plus, the exact molecular causes and processes behind IBS aren’t fully understood, making it difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution. 

For instance, IBS involves multiple functional changes in the body, including changes in brain function, altered gut sensitivity, abnormalities in bowel movements and secretions, and the presence of other physical and psychological conditions. 

Moreover, IBS has been linked to gastrointestinal and other abnormalities like overactive bladder, gastroesophageal reflux disease, anal incontinence, pain syndromes, functional constipation, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic pelvic pain. However, a clear link between these abnormalities and IBS symptoms is yet to be established. 

Plus, studies examining these factors have produced inconsistent results, and underlying causes of IBS often don’t directly correlate with specific gut symptoms. For instance, some studies suggest gut micro-inflammation occurs in IBS, while others, when looking at similar gut symptoms, aren’t able to find the same evidence. 

These inconsistencies suggest the existence of different IBS subgroups, each requiring unique clinical diagnosis and management pathways. This means finding a “cure-all” medication for IBS might not be possible (at least in the near future). 

What is the goal of IBS treatment?

The goal of IBS treatment is to make a positive impact on patients’ symptoms and overall well-being. But it can be broken into the following: 

  1. Improve Individual Symptoms – The priority is to address abdominal pain, bloating, discomfort, constipation, and diarrhea.  
  2. Prevent IBS Complications – Prevention is key when it comes to complications. So, IBS treatment aims to avoid risky diagnostic procedures and limit medication use to minimize the potential side effects of using multiple medications. 
  3. Consider the Bigger Picture – IBS has a range of symptoms that affect patients’ daily lives. So, taking the overall impact of IBS and taking steps to minimize it is essential during treatment. 

What are the current treatment options for IBS?

When it comes to treating IBS, there are several options available, depending on the unique symptoms and needs of each person. Let’s take a look at three of the best: 

1. Low-FODMAP diet

Fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) are hard-to-digest carbohydrates. They’re found in foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, and cereals. 

When FODMAPs reach the intestines, they’re fermented by gut bacteria, leading to gas production and water retention. This can result in symptoms like bloating, gas, and abdominal discomfort. 

A high intake of FODMAPs can also contribute to issues like inflammation, dysbiosis, and intestinal barrier dysfunction, which can worsen IBS symptoms. 

Foods with high- and low-FODMAP content include the following:

Food ProductsHigh-FODMAP ContentLow-FODMAP Content
Dairy and alternativesSoy milk, fresh cheese, condensed milk, all types of milkBrie, hard cheese, peanut butter, ripened cheese, lactose-free yogurt, rice/almond milk, lactose-free milk
Bread and cerealsBreakfast cereals, wheat pasta, wheat bread, ryeSpelt bread, sourdough, gluten-free pasta and bread, quinoa, rice
Nuts and seedsCashews and pistachios Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, peanuts
FruitsPears, nectarines, dried fruits, watermelon, apples, peaches, mangosMandarin, strawberries, banana, kiwi, lemon, blueberries, grapes, orange
VegetableMushrooms, sugar snap peas, green peas, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, onion, garlicZucchini, tomato, pumpkin, green beans, carrot, eggplant cucumber, corn, bell pepper

A low-FODMAP diet restricts the consumption of foods high in these carbohydrates and has been shown to improve IBS symptoms (like bloating and abdominal pain) in over 70% of clinical subjects. It is divided into three phases: 

  1. Elimination – During this phase, you eliminate all high-FODMAP foods from your diet for at least two to four weeks. This helps your body reset. 
  2. Reintroduction – After the elimination phase, you gradually reintroduce specific FODMAP groups back into your diet, one at a time. This helps you monitor your body’s response and identify which FODMAPs trigger symptoms for you.
  3. Personalization – Once you’ve identified your trigger foods, you can personalize your long-term eating plan to prevent symptom recurrences.

2. Dietary fiber therapy 

Dietary fiber is a good remedy for constipation. It promotes stool bulking and speeds up the movement of waste through the colon.

When it comes to managing IBS symptoms, supplementing with fiber — especially soluble fiber — is likely to improve abdominal pain and overall symptoms. Soluble dietary fibers include ispaghula husk, psyllium, calcium polycarbophil, and linseeds.

Most experts recommend a daily intake of 25 to 35 grams of total fiber. You can boost your fiber intake by using supplements like Metamucil. 

3. Prescription drugs

There are various prescription drugs that help to improve the abdominal pain and affected bowel habits of people with IBS. Let’s take a look at some of them: 

  • Antispasmodics – Pain in IBS is often a result of smooth muscle spasms, and antispasmodic drugs work by relaxing these muscles.
  • Antidepressants – Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are recommended for pain management in IBS patients who do not respond to antispasmodics and dietary changes.
  • Antidiarrheals – Loperamide, an opioid receptor agonist, is beneficial in reducing stool frequency and improving stool consistency. It works by slowing down the movement of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • Antibiotics and Probiotics – Rifaximin, a non-absorbable antibiotic, has been shown to reduce IBS symptoms. It does this by preventing bacterial overgrowth and reducing micro-inflammation. 

Frequently-asked questions about IBS cure

Has anyone recovered from IBS?

Yes. While there’s no cure for IBS, most people experience a gradual recovery — where their symptoms improve or disappear entirely — after several months of treatment. However, this requires lifestyle changes and sometimes medical interventions. 

Can people with IBS live long?

Yes, people with IBS can live long and fulfilling lives. While IBS can cause significant discomfort, it can be managed through stress reduction, diet changes, and underlying health condition treatment. 

This can help you find relief and reduce symptoms to a point where they barely have an effect on your daily life. 

Can you live a good life with IBS?

Yes, by following a balanced diet tailored to IBS, such as avoiding trigger foods and eating smaller, regular meals, managing stress, and working with your doctor to develop a personalized treatment plan, you can effectively control your symptoms and maintain a good quality of life.

Does IBS get better with age?

Yes, some people may experience less frequent symptoms as they age, but others might require ongoing management. 

Again, IBS symptoms vary from person to person. They’re influenced by your dietary habits, physical activity levels, sleep patterns, hormonal fluctuations, and stress levels, which can improve or exacerbate symptoms at any age. 

Is fasting good for IBS?

Fasting can help people reduce and manage IBS symptom severity. Because when you take longer breaks between meals, your GI system isn’t constantly engaged. 

This improves its ability to move food and reduces excess fermentation of food, which triggers IBS symptoms like bloating and abdominal pain. 

How can I test for IBS at home?

You cannot test for IBS at home. In fact, there is no “test” for IBS. That’s because multiple factors play a role in IBS development, such as neuroendocrine system (NES) disturbances, genetics, dietary intake, gut microbiota imbalances, and inflammation, making every case unique.

This is why doctors use symptom-based criteria to diagnose IBS instead of something like a colonoscopy

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