Background: Numerous meta-analyses have recently assessed the overall clinical benefit of single therapy options and groups of therapies in the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). By large, this should enable physicians to select from a number of therapy options available.
Methods: We entered dichotomous outcome data from 121 IBS trials published over the last 35 years with different groups and subgroups of drugs (antispasmodics, motility-affecting agents, antidepressants, peppermint oil), dietary interventions (bran, probiotics), and psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, hypnotherapy, relaxation techniques) into meta-analytic tools and estimate the overall efficacy (odds ratio, number needed to treat).
Results: Highest efficacy is currently found for peppermint oil, followed by psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological interventions and probiotics. Traditional antispasmodic therapy has a moderate efficacy, whereas the list of (partially failed or cancelled) motility affecting drugs yielded weak clinical results, and therapies by bran and fibers are of no value in IBS.
Conclusion: Evidence-based therapy in IBS provides a number of effective treatment options beyond the fact that many novel compounds under development have failed to reach the market. An algorithm for clinical therapy decision is proposed.