Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has several uncomfortable physical symptoms, one of which is constipation. But there are many ways you can find relief and get back to some sense of regularity.

About 10–15% of U.S. adults have IBS. If you live with IBS, you can take steps to relieve constipation symptoms. These include:

  • changing your diet
  • eating more fiber
  • taking laxatives
  • taking medications
  • managing stress
  • taking probiotics or trying other alternative treatments

Read on to learn more about these treatments.

Irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) is a type of IBS, a chronic functional gastrointestinal condition that is more common in people under 50 years old.

A doctor will make a diagnosis of IBS-C if you have received an IBS diagnosis and experience hard stools 25% of the time or more and have loose or watery stool less than 25% of the time.

The exact cause of IBS is unknown. One theory is that it may be caused by disruptions in the communication between your brain and intestines.

Other types of IBS include IBS-D (diarrhea), IBS-M (mixed bowel habits), and IBS-U (undefined).

Eating certain foods may help decrease constipation symptoms caused by IBS. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy notes that dietary changes can help, but what works best depends on the person. You might try the following:

  • Avoid foods that trigger your constipation and other IBS symptoms.
  • Increase soluble fiber, such as flax, oats, and psyllium.
  • Reduce food and beverages that cause gas, such as caffeine and soda.
  • Follow a low FODMAP diet.
  • Follow a gluten-free diet.
  • Increase your daily fluid intake by drinking water.

Learn more about diet for IBS.

Fiber is a nondigestible material found naturally in food — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans — that helps move food through your colon. In this way, it can help get things moving and relieve your constipation.

You can get more fiber into your diet by eating high fiber foods or with the help of a supplement. The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) recommends eating fiber that contains psyllium over bran.

Try to consume at least 25–30 grams (g) of fiber daily from fruit, and take supplements if needed.

Though it can relieve constipation, sudden, large amounts of fiber can also increase gas, cramping, and pain. The best way to avoid this is to introduce fiber into your diet slowly until you can get used to processing it.

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) has these suggestions for increasing fiber intake with IBS:

  • Eat fruit, such as raspberries, oranges, and kiwi.
  • Add vegetables to meals, such as carrots with skins, potatoes with skins, green beans, and corn.
  • Choose higher fiber bread and cereals, such as quinoa, brown rice, and oat porridge.
  • Consume lentils and chickpeas.
  • Eat nuts, such as almonds and peanuts.

You can also try a fiber supplement if dietary interventions don’t work. Try to consult with a doctor, as too much fiber can increase gas and bloating with IBS, and a doctor or nutritionist may help you find the right balance.

Learn more about supplements for IBS.

Over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives can provide adequate temporary relief from constipation. Osmotic laxatives such as polyethylene glycol (Restoralax or Miralax) and lactulose (Generlac) can improve stool consistency if you have IBS-C.

Stimulant laxatives, such as bisacodyl (Dulcolax), can also help relieve constipation but are not indicated for long-term use. Stimulant laxatives can also make abdominal pain and cramping from IBS worse.

Consult with your doctor before trying a new product, and always start with the lowest recommended dose. Ask your doctor which laxative is right for you, and only use them when necessary.

Learn more about laxatives for IBS-C or IBS-M.

If dietary changes don’t work, you may want to speak with your doctor about medications.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders (NIDDK), medications for IBS-C may include:

  • fiber supplements
  • laxatives
  • lubiprostone (Amitiza)
  • linaclotide (Linzess)
  • plecanatide (Trulance)

Other medications that can help relieve stomach pain may include:

  • antispasmodics
  • antidepressants
  • coated peppermint oil capsules

In the case of IBS-M, you may be prescribed any of these medications depending on your specific symptoms.

Taking steps to reduce stress may help improve IBS symptoms. Chronic stress is a risk factor for IBS, although evidence is not yet established to show whether that’s because of IBS or existing mental health conditions.

People with IBS-C, in particular, often have other diagnoses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Treatment for those conditions may help relieve IBS-C.

The IFFGD recommends these techniques to relieve stress:

  • Write in a journal.
  • Reframe negative experiences into positive ones, such as what you learned about yourself when you were sad.
  • Practice deep, meditative breathing.

Counseling or talk therapy can also help relieve stress and teach strategies for mental health management. You may also want to try some practices that can contribute to a sense of calm and well-being, such as meditation or massage.

Learn more about IBS and stress.

Physical activity can also not only relieve stress, but it may help relieve IBS-C symptoms.

A 2022 review of 11 studies found limited evidence that increasing treadmill workouts, yoga, or other types of exercise may improve some symptoms in people with IBS. It does not appear to help reduce abdominal pain.

That said, the ACG recommends regular exercise to help with overall IBS symptoms. In addition, research from 2021 recommends daily exercise for reducing IBS symptoms and constipation.

Learn more about IBS and exercise.

A 2016 study found that sleep disturbances are more common in people with IBS, and are correlated with worse symptoms and distress related to the condition. A 2018 study confirmed these findings.

This can be explained by the gut-brain axis, which is the connection between the brain and your gastrointestinal tract. When one is negatively affected, the other is affected. Therefore, it stands to reason that getting better sleep might improve some symptoms of IBS.

Learn more about IBS and sleep.

Alternative treatments may provide some relief from IBS symptoms. Although it hasn’t been definitely proven to be effective, acupuncture may reduce some of the pain associated with this condition.

Probiotic supplements may also be beneficial for some people with IBS — though it is unclear if this may be due to a placebo effect. These are bacteria and yeasts that are similar to those that naturally live in your intestines and help you process food.

It’s possible that you’re lacking the right combination of these organisms.

Learn additional home remedies for IBS.

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about getting IBS constipation relief.

How do I get rid of IBS constipation?

Making dietary changes, increasing soluble fiber intake, and reducing stress may help. OTC laxatives and prescription medications can also relieve IBS-C symptoms. If you have another diagnosis, such as anxiety, treating that condition may also help with your IBS symptoms.

What is the best over-the-counter medication for IBS with constipation?

The American Gastroenterological Association suggests a propylene glycol laxative for IBS-C. In general, osmotic laxatives, such as propylene glycol, are better than stimulant laxatives. Stimulant laxatives aren’t meant for long-term use and can cause side effects, such as abdominal cramping.

What is the first line of treatment for IBS constipation?

The first-line treatment is usually to change your diet and eat more fiber. Getting regular exercise can also help move stool through your bowels. If these strategies do not work, doctors may suggest laxatives or medication.

What triggers IBS with constipation?

The exact cause of IBS is unknown. That said, your diet can be a trigger for IBS-C, especially if you’re eating high FODMAP foods. Other possible triggers include underlying inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract, infection, or an issue with your immune system.

About one-third of people diagnosed with IBS have IBS-C. Managing IBS-C can include changing to a gluten-free or low FODMAP diet, increasing fiber intake, and lowering stress.

Several medications may also help with the condition, including OTC osmotic laxatives and prescription medications. Yoga, meditation, and talk therapy can also help reduce stress levels, which may help with IBS constipation.