IBS Symptoms in Men

How IBS Affects Men

Doctor examining man
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According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), between 25 million and 45 million people in the United States have inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), and one out of every three is male. For the most part, the condition affects men and women in similar ways, but there are a few differences.

How IBS Affects Men and Women

IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) that causes repeated episodes of severe abdominal cramps or stabbing or radiating pain, along with chronic constipation, frequent bouts of diarrhea, or both. Besides the primary symptoms, IBS sometimes also causes bloating, ​gas, mucus in the stool, and the feeling that a bowel movement was incomplete. While IBS can cause you to have diarrhea and constipation, sometimes it is predominantly associated with diarrhea (IBS-D), and sometimes it is predominantly associated with constipation (IBS-C).

Differences in How IBS Affects Men and Women

Some research has found differences in the ways men and women experience IBS.

In general, men are more likely to have problems with diarrhea and frequent stools, and less likely to experience pain. Men also tend to experience more interpersonal problems than women as a result of their IBS, and are less likely to seek medical attention than women are.

Prevalence

There is a prevailing myth that IBS only affects women. Television commercials and magazine ads tend to portray irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as a problem that only women develop.

What's more, advertisers aren't alone in their bias that IBS is a woman's health problem. Researchers also have been more likely to focus on how the condition affects women than on how it affects men. Consequently, men often are often excluded from studies or there are too few of them to gather much statistically significant information.

The stereotype could be an unfortunate misperception for men who may have digestive symptoms caused by IBS. Men may not get the help they might need simply because they assume that something else is going on.

Gender differences in IBS prevalence appear to decrease with age. The rates of IBS in women begin to dip after the age of 45, a trend that's generally attributed to hormonal changes of menopause. By age 65, the rates of IBS in men and women are thought to be roughly equal.

Pain

Men are less likely to experience pain with IBS, and doctors believe that testosterone and other androgens (male hormones) could be the cause.

Androgens are natural steroids, and testosterone is an androgen. Research has indicated that higher levels of androgens lower a person's risk of developing a chronic pain disorder and that testosterone, in particular, may serve as a natural pain reliever. This might play into why pain is a predominant symptom of IBS in women, but not in men, and can partially explain why women report IBS symptoms more often than men.

Bowel Movements

In general, women with IBS are more likely to experience hard stools and bloating, while men are more likely to experience frequent stools and diarrhea. The explanation for these differences is unclear.

Quality of Life

Overall, studies show that men with IBS have a more diminished quality of life than women with IBS. Dysphoria (a feeling of being unwell), body image, interference with activity, health worries, food avoidance, social interactions, and sexual function are all diminished in men and women with IBS, but more so in men.

Diagnosis and Treatment of IBS in Men

Women are estimated to be three times as likely as men to see a doctor for digestive problems. And the diagnosis of IBS may not be considered as readily when men are evaluated for digestive problems as it is for women. While the diagnosis of IBS may be somewhat delayed for men, the effective treatments are the same for men and women, and include dietary modification and medication.

A Word From Verywell

If you're a guy and you're having persistent stomach pain or digestive discomfort, don't discount the possibility that you might be dealing with IBS. Make an appointment to see your doctor to find out what the problem is. You could be among the 30 percent of people with this complex, disruptive disorder who happen to be male, and, with a diagnosis, you can get the treatment that will bring you relief.

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