IIrritable Bowel Syndrome ( or IBS ) is a fairly common condition which affects between 10 and 20% of the UK adult population at some point in their lives. Acupuncture for the treatment of IBS can relieve a number of the symptoms with fewer side effects than other medications. The symptoms can vary between individuals but some common ones include:

Stabbing or churning abdominal pain
Bloating and swelling of the abdomen
Change of bowel habit (constipation and/or diarrhea)

Aside from these the patient may also be suffering with general fatigue and depression which can also severely affect their day to day life making normal activities , such as shopping or watching sports events, somewhat troublesome. Increased excitement or stress may cause an increase in the frequency of bowel movements. IBS isn’t a specific disease but rather a set of symptoms and it’s generally accepted that it is more prevalent in females. Stress , diet and hormones are all possible triggers for IBS and it’s important that the patient and medical practitioner look at the whole picture before suggesting any course of action

There are certain medications that are used in Western medicine and these work in different ways. Here’s some of the more common ones:

  • antispasmodics- these work by reducing stomach and abdominal pain
  • laxatives-these can help relieve constipation
  • anti-motility medications- these can help with reducing diarrhoea
  • low dose anti-depressants-these can be used to block neural pathways but there are many side effects to these and caution should be exercised when using them.

Whilst it’s important to stress the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle ( good diet, natural food, exercise and good sleep patterns) Traditional Chinese Medicine ( TCM) can also help greatly in the treatment of IBS. TCM views IBS as a result of a spleen and stomach dysfunction. Both these organs are vital to the digestion and transformation of food in to excreta. When they are not functioning well there is often a retention of dampness in the digestive system which will further affect the normal functioning of the whole system including the liver and the result can be a set of symptoms which can be loosely called IBS. TCM often uses herbal medicine to excellent effect in the treatment. However, there is a need to recognise everyone as an individual and prescribe on syndrome differentiation which will be discussed below.


This is usually a result of spleen and stomach dysfunction and will very often manifest itself with loose, watery and spray like stools. Appetite will be poor, pulse slow and the stomach bloated. The tongue will be covered with a white and greasy coating.

In this case Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan is used to expel cold and eliminate dampness.


If a patient’s constitution is prone to excessive heat or if they favour highly spiced food , cold-dampness may transform to damp-heat. Stools are frequent and foul-smelling with a burning sensation. The tongue is red with a yellow coating.

This can be treated with Ge Geng Qin Lian Tang to clear away excessive heat and dampness.

Food Retention

When food remains undigested due to spleen and stomach dysfunction it can cause problems in the intestines. Aside from frequent bowel movements there is usually abdominal pain which is relieved after the stool has been passed. Undigested food can cause belching with acid regurgitation. The tongue is thick and greasy and the pulse is slippery.

Food retention can be treated with Bao He Wan to resolve the retained food and restore digestive function.

Stagnation of Liver Qi

Stress and depression will affect the functioning of the liver which will also effect the spleen and stomach.This is characterised by a tightness around the chest, tenderness around the ribs and frequent bowel movement. The patient is likely to be emotional with frequent sighing.

Tong Xie Yao Fang is recommended here to soothe the liver and harmonise the spleen.

Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency

This condition can be serious. It is marked by frequent bowel movement, loose stools, tiredness, nausea, abdominal pain and poor appetite. The tongue is pale with a white coating and the pulse is weak. Greasy and cold food should be avoided.

Seng Ling Bai Zhu San can be used to tonify the spleen and regulate the stomach.

Kidney Yang Deficiency

Kidney yang deficiency can follow on from spleen dysfunction as they are closely connected. It is usually manifested by loose stools at midnight and in the morning with acute abdominal pains. Limbs are cold and the tongue is pale with a whitish coating. The pulse is thin and deep.

Si Shen Wan is commonly used to warm the Kidney Yang and to strengthen the spleen Qi.

Here Professor Shulan Tang discusses IBS- a common condition in the UK population and one which she has many years experience in treating. 




We offer the search function below only to provide a way for you to find a TCM practitioner who is normally more specialised in this disease. However, it does not guarantee a cure or efficacy.

Search practitioners for this disease:

Please type your location