Irritable bowel syndrome: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment: an update for health-care practitioners

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 Apr;25(4):691-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1746.2009.06120.x. Epub 2010 Jan 13.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, affects from 3-20% of the US population, depending on sociocultural and comorbid factors. IBS is characterized by a symptom complex of abdominal pain and abnormal bowel habits that present as diarrhea or constipation, and general physical weakness in the absence of abnormal morphological, histological or inflammatory markers. The main diagnostic Rome III criteria as established by international professional organizations are based on exclusion criteria and the occurrence and rate of symptoms. Because the pathophysiology and causes of IBS are poorly understood, treatment approaches are mainly focused on symptom management to maintain everyday functioning and improve quality of life for persons with IBS. The mainstay of intervention is pharmacological treatment with antispasmodics and antidiarrheals for diarrhea, prokinetics and high-fiber diets for constipation, and supportive therapy with low-dose antidepressants to normalize gastrointestinal motility. Other interventions include lifestyle and dietary changes, psychotherapy, herbal therapies and acupuncture. The purpose of this review is to critically assess benefits and risks of current treatment approaches as well as promising complementary and alternative therapies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / adverse effects
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome* / complications
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome* / therapy
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychotherapy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Gastrointestinal Agents