A roll of toilet paper is shown.Even if you don’t suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chances are someone you know does.

An estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of Americans are missing school or work and cutting back on social activities because of crampy pain, gassiness, bloating and bowel problems.

Patients may suffer predominately from constipation or diarrhea. There’s no cure for either, but much can be done to relieve the symptoms, noted Thomas Rupp, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Spectrum Health Medical Group.

The American College of Gastroenterology recently published updated treatment guidelines to help doctors choose what really works. The guidelines suggest that eliminating certain foods may help some sufferers.

Dr. Rupp encourages his patients to eat organic, well-balanced meals and use common sense. For example, up to 40 percent of patients with this condition are lactose intolerant, so avoiding dairy products may help. If other foods like onions, cabbage, soft drinks, coffee or chocolate cause problems, it’s smart to practice restraint.

“Don’t deprive yourself too much, or you’ll crave the ‘forbidden foods’ even more,” he said.

The guidelines also recommend fiber for both constipation and diarrhea. You can get fiber from many foods, but you may not get enough from diet alone. In that case, you can add extra fiber with psyllium (Metamucil or other brands), which the guidelines said is more effective than bran.

Probiotics, which have “good bacteria” and other organisms, are recommended to reduce bloating and flatulence. Dr. Rupp suggests kefir, a cultured milk product that’s similar to yogurt, for people who prefer getting their nutrition through food. You can also find probiotics in some (but not all!) yogurt. Or you can buy them in a pill form.

Certain prescription medications may also help. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic called Xifaxan (rifaximin), of the recently FDA-approved Viberzi (eluxadoline) for diarrhea. Or, if constipation is your main problem, you may benefit from linaclotide or lubiprostone.

Some antidepressants and psychological therapies may also relieve abdominal pain, according to the report. Dr. Rupp encourages his patients to try diet changes before turning to seritonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, and other antidepressants.

“We don’t want people to be dependent on antidepressants for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Many people who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome aren’t getting the care they need and it’s making their lives miserable.

“It’s important to start with an accurate diagnosis,” Dr. Rupp said. “See your primary care doctor first to rule out more serious issues like inflammatory bowel disease or a bowel obstruction. Once you know you really have IBS, help is available.”

A new blood test can help patients with diarrhea-predominant IBS get a firm diagnosis by ruling out inflammatory bowel disease in nearly all cases.  A test like this that can quickly rule out IBD is a significant benefit to patients because it reduces the cost, inconvenience and discomfort associated with colonoscopies.