Irritable bowel syndrome: recent and novel therapeutic approaches

Drugs. 2006;66(8):1073-88. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200666080-00004.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a highly prevalent functional gastrointestinal disorder affecting up to 3-15% of the general population in Western countries. It is characterised by unexplained abdominal pain, discomfort and bloating in association with altered bowel habits. The pathophysiology of IBS is considered to be multifactorial, involving disturbances of the brain-gut-axis: IBS has been associated with abnormal gastrointestinal motor functions, visceral hypersensitivity, psychosocial factors, autonomic dysfunction and mucosal inflammation. Traditional IBS therapy is mainly symptom oriented and often unsatisfactory. Hence, there is a need for new treatment strategies. Increasing knowledge of brain-gut physiology, mechanisms, and neurotransmitters and receptors involved in gastrointestinal motor and sensory function have led to the development of several new therapeutic approaches. This article provides a systematic overview of recently approved or novel medications that show promise for the treatment of IBS; classification is based on the physiological systems targeted by the medication. The article includes agents acting on the serotonin receptor or serotonin transporter system, novel selective anticholinergics, alpha-adrenergic agonists, opioid agents, cholecystokinin antagonists, neurokinin antagonists, somatostatin receptor agonists, neurotrophin-3, corticotropin releasing factor antagonists, chloride channel activators, guanylate cyclase-c agonists, melatonin and atypical benzodiazepines. Finally, the role of probiotics and antibacterials in the treatment of IBS is summarised.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Probiotics
  • Serotonin Agents / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Serotonin Agents