People affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are all too familiar with its symptoms: cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea-a sudden urgent need to have a bowel movement that results in loose and watery stools. People with a primary symptom of diarrhea have what's called diarrhea-predominant IBS or IBS-D.

Although the exact cause of IBS-D is unclear, some sufferers notice that it happens during stressful times, such as while on a job interview or a date, while others attribute the problem to food intolerances. If you have diarrhea-predominant IBS, your doctor may recommend that you get your blood tested for celiac disease, a chronic intestinal disorder caused by a hypersensitivity to gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and possibly oat products. He or she may also test you for lactose intolerance-the inability to digest milk products.

Before embarking on any self-treatment for your condition, talk with your doctor to determine the best course of action. Most likely, your doctor will recommend avoiding some foods that may exacerbate diarrhea, including:

  • Chocolate, alcohol, caffeinated and carbonated drinks and artificial sweeteners containing sorbitol
  • Fried foods
  • Insoluble fiber found in such foods as wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains. However, soluble fiber foods, such as oat bran, barley, fruit without the skin, nuts, seeds and navy, pinto and lima beans

Keeping a food diary in which you write down the foods you eat and their effect on your digestive system can also help you sort out which foods are contributing to your IBS-D symptoms.

In addition to eliminating some problematic foods from your diet, your doctor may suggest taking an over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication such as Imodium, Maalox or Kaopectate to relieve the problem.  However, these drugs carry some side effects, including stomach cramping, dry mouth, dizziness and constipation, so use them with caution and only for short periods of time and then be sure to check back with your doctor for follow up care.

Your doctor may also recommend that you take a low dose tricyclic antidepressant, such as Pamelor, Elavil and Tofranil, which, unlike other antidepressants like Elexa and Paxil, don't cause diarrhea. 

Using stress management techniques may also be helpful when it comes to curbing bouts of diarrhea, including:

  • Relaxation therapy, such as deep breathing exercises and meditation
  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Regular exercise
  • Getting adequate sleep