10 Ways IBS Symptoms Are Different for Women

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The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be different in women. So if you're a woman who is wondering why the disorder doesn't affect you the same way it affects a man in your life, rest assured that the gender gap isn't all in your head.

Experts have long known that this medical condition manifests itself differently in women than it does in men. In fact, IBS affects significantly more women than men, indicating that female sex hormones may be a factor. As researchers attempt to figure out why IBS disproportionately affects women, they have turned their attention to all aspects of women's health. This means they have examined how IBS intersects with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, and more.

If you're a woman concerned about how IBS may affect you, review this quick overview of the most significant research findings of how the disorder often plays out in women. But remember that IBS is a complex condition that not only presents differently from one person to another but in the same person from day-to-day. With that in mind, know that just because researchers have found IBS typically presents a certain way in women doesn't mean you'll relate to all of the findings that follow.

How IBS Symptoms Manifest in Women

  1. You are not imagining things; it is common for IBS symptoms to be affected by your menstrual cycle. And women with certain gynecological disorders, such as endometriosis, may experience even more stomach upset, including bloating, gas and diarrhea, than women free of these reproductive health problems.
  2. For many women, pregnancy results in an improvement in IBS symptoms. This doesn't mean that you should run out and get pregnant for relief, but if you're contemplating pregnancy already, take this potential perk into consideration.
  3. Just as many women experience a decrease in IBS symptoms during pregnancy, they also report a reduction in symptoms following menopause.
  4. Women with IBS have a higher risk of being diagnosed with endometriosis, a gynecological disorder in which the lining of the uterus travels to the ovaries, bowel and other organs, often causing pain and sometimes infertility.
  5. Women with IBS are estimated to be at significantly higher risk of undergoing a hysterectomy.
  6. Although the hormones estrogen and progesterone are linked ​to GI symptoms, neither birth control pills nor hormone replacement therapy have been found to have any effect on IBS symptoms.
  7. A significantly high percentage of women with IBS have a history of being a victim of sexual or severe physical abuse.
  8. Women who suffer from IBS have more difficulty relaxing and enjoying sex, but they are not at higher risk of having problems with sex drive or ability to achieve orgasm.
  9. Women with IBS have a higher risk of suffering from urinary urgency, but they are not necessarily at higher risk for urinary incontinence.
  10. Women with IBS are also more likely to complain of pelvic organ prolapse symptoms.
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Article Sources

  • "Women and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)" The UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders.
  • Palsson, O., Whitehead, W., Turner, M., van Tilburg, M. & Kanazawa, M. "Results of a National Survey on the Effects of Changes in Female Sex Hormones on Irritable Bowel Syndrome" The UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders.
  • Wang, et.al. "Pelvic floor disorders and quality of life in women with self-reported irritable bowel syndrome" Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2010 31:424-431.