3 Types of IBS and How They’re Treated

Some types of IBS are easier to treat than others.

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects about 12 percent of people in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. These millions of people may share an illness, but their experiences may vary widely. That’s because there are three different types of IBS, which may affect the individual differently.

Doctors categorize the types of IBS based on the predominant symptom: diarrhea, constipation, or both. There’s a lot of overlap among the three types, but also some key differences. And remember—even people who have the same type may have unique triggers, symptoms, and concerns.

Types of IBS

IBS-C (IBS with Constipation)

People with IBS-C suffer from constipation more often than diarrhea. Their digestive systems may contract more slowly than normal. Muscle contractions of the intestine are what help push food along through the digestive system. The longer food spends in the intestines, the more water gets absorbed out. This leads to hard, lumpy bowel movements that are difficult to pass.

(Psst … Here are other reasons you may be constipated all the time.)

IBS-D (IBS with Diarrhea)

People with IBS-D suffer from diarrhea more often than constipation. Their digestive systems may contract too quickly. This may lead to loose, watery bowel movements.

(BTW, here are other reasons you might have diarrhea all the time.)

IBS-M (IBS with Mixed Bowel Habits)

People with IBS-M have equal episodes of constipation and diarrhea. In other words, they don’t have a “predominant” symptom. The speed of their digestive system is inconsistent, leading to these alternating symptoms.

Treating IBS

Treatment for all types of IBS involve lifestyle changes, including:

However, there are also over-the-counter medications that may help with some IBS symptoms. For example:

  • People with IBS-C may benefit from laxatives, stool softeners, and antispasmodics. These can help soften bowel movements and relieve pain.
  • People with IBS-D may benefit from antidiarrheal medicines, antispasmodics, and fiber supplements. These may help to bulk up and slow down bowel movements.

However, people with IBS-M may have a harder time treating their symptoms with OTC medicines. That’s because the medicines that help with constipation could cause them to have an episode of diarrhea—and vice versa.

No matter what symptoms are giving you trouble, your doctor can help you find a treatment regimen that works for you. Reach out for help—so you don’t have to solve the IBS puzzle on your own.