Published online May 7, 2008. doi: 10.3748/wjg.14.2639
Revised: January 17, 2008
Published online: May 7, 2008
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a highly prevalent gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain and discomfort in association with altered bowel habits. It is estimated to affect 10%-15% of the Western population, and has a large impact on quality of life and (in)direct healthcare costs. IBS is a multifactorial disorder involving dysregulation within the brain-gut axis, and it is frequently associated with gastrointestinal motor and sensory dysfunction, enteric and central nervous system irregularities, neuroimmune dysregulation, and post-infectious inflammation. As with other functional medical disorders, the treatment for IBS can be challenging. Conventional therapy for those with moderate to severe symptoms is largely unsatisfactory, and the development of new and effective drugs is made difficult by the complex pathogenesis, variety of symptoms, and lack of objective clinical findings that are the hallmark of this disorder. Fortunately, research advances over the past several decades have provided insight into potential mechanisms responsible for the pathogenesis of IBS, and have led to the development of several promising pharmaceutical agents. In recent years there has been much publicity over several of these new IBS medications (alosetron and tegaserod) because of their reported association with ischemic colitis and cardiovascular disease. While these agents remain available for use under restricted prescribing programs, this highlights the need for continued development of safe and effective medication for IBS. This article provides a physiologically-based overview of recently developed and frequently employed pharmaceutical agents used to treat IBS, and discusses some non-pharmaceutical options that may be beneficial in this disorder.