Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), can affect both men and women, but the symptoms may present differently. Studies have shown women can be up to 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with IBS compared to men.
As a painful and chronic condition, it’s important for women to be able to recognize the symptoms of IBS, and seek treatment.
The symptoms of IBS in both men and women are often the same. Recurring bouts of constipation, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort and bloating are all frequently used to diagnose IBS regardless of gender.
However, the menstrual cycle can have an effect on IBS, and certain symptoms are more commonly reported by women.
Recognizing and diagnosing IBS is the first step to find a successful treatment.
Women who experience symptoms of IBS should seek a diagnosis, and consider the dietary and lifestyle changes that may be necessary for managing the condition.
This guide helps to clarify the symptoms of IBS commonly found in women.
IBS Symptoms in Women
IBS is found in all age groups, genders, and lifestyles. IBS is a common condition that affects between 25 and 45 million people in America alone, and roughly two thirds of those suffering with IBS are female.
Symptoms do vary slightly across gender. Here are some symptoms that are commonly reported by women.
IBS resulting in constipation has been shown to be more prevalent in women than men. Constipation is a common symptom of IBS, and it causes infrequent stools that are hard and dry.
Constipation can lead to abdominal pain, bloating and fullness, which are other frequently reported symptoms of IBS in women.
While constipation is more commonly observed in women with IBS, diarrhea can also be an issue. For women, diarrhea can worsen around the time of their menstrual period.
Frequent loose stools, cramps in the lower abdominal area, and mucus in the stool are all common when suffering with diarrhea predominant IBS.
Women with IBS may find they alternate between both diarrhea and constipation.
Bloating is often linked to constipation, and it’s another symptom of IBS that’s more frequently observed in women. Bloating is a tight and uncomfortable feeling after eating, and a tendency to feel full faster.
Bloating is a common symptom related to menses in women, even without IBS. However, women with IBS are more likely to experience bloating after ovulation, and the bloating can become severe.
Postmenopausal women can also struggle with bloating as a symptom of IBS.
Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms
A study investigated the link between women with IBS and the likelihood of suffering from lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). The study concluded that there was a link between the two conditions.
Women with IBS were more likely to suffer from increased urination, urination at night, and painful urination. It was also shown that suffering with these conditions could have a negative impact on mental health.
Women with IBS have reported frequent episodes of pelvic pain.
IBS can have an effect on sexual health. Men and women have reported IBS has led to a decreased sex drive. Women have also found that IBS can lead to pain during sex.
Quality of Life
Women suffering from IBS may find themselves stressed, anxious, and fatigued, which can exacerbate their IBS symptoms. The symptoms of IBS can lead to a decrease in quality of life, resulting in a negative mental outlook.
Quality of life and IBS often have a clear effect on each other. A person suffering from painful IBS symptoms may find themselves more fatigued and more stressed as a result of their symptoms interfering with daily life.
Learn more about behavioral therapies that can help IBS sufferers.
IBS and Menstruation
Symptoms of IBS may become more severe at certain stages in the menstrual cycle.
Constipation and diarrhea may alternate depending on where in the cycle a woman is, and women with IBS are more likely to experience these symptoms severely.
Constipation is often reported around the start of, and during, a woman’s period. Bloating, on the other hand, is more likely to occur after ovulation.
Women with IBS often report gynecological disorders. Those with endometriosis will often report similar symptoms to those with IBS.
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the womb is found growing in abnormal places. It can cause pelvic pain, as well as painful bowel movements.
IBS and pregnancy
Pregnancy may lead to an increase in IBS symptoms. However, more research is necessary to draw firm conclusions.
It’s possible that female sex hormones are the cause of higher rates of IBS in women. Fluctuations in female sex hormones may worsen symptoms of IBS.
This is an area where research is still necessary, to determine clearly what links may exist between female sex hormones and IBS.
Women Who May Be At Risk For IBS
Although we’re always learning more about IBS and its effects, there’s still much to discover. There are thought to be many potential causes for IBS, which can make diagnosis and treatment tricky.
It also makes it difficult to determine who is at a higher risk of developing IBS. Embarrassment around seeing a doctor can also affect the data.
There are a few factors that are thought to increase the potential risk of experiencing IBS.
- Being younger – Those who are under 50 are more likely to develop IBS, with many having shown symptoms before the age of 35.
- Having a family member with IBS – Those with a family history of IBS are more likely to develop the condition.
- Suffering from stress, depression, or anxiety – People with mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety often report symptoms of IBS.
There are no definitive tests for IBS, and it’s often diagnosed via a process of elimination. If you think you might have IBS, consult with your doctor.
IBS Symptoms in Women Final Thoughts
IBS is more often diagnosed in women. Although many of the symptoms are the same across the genders, women are more likely to experience bloating and constipation.
Symptoms of IBS often fluctuate with the menstrual cycle.
Women struggling with IBS often treat it with lifestyle and dietary changes.