IBS In Men

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can affect people of all different ages and backgrounds. However, women in the United States are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed. This may be related to hormone differences, how often men seek healthcare and other factors. Although more women are officially diagnosed with IBS, men are just as affected by IBS.1-3

Diagnosing IBS in men

IBS is diagnosed based on the type of symptoms present, how often they occur, and for how long. Common symptoms include:1

  • Abdominal pain
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Changes in the frequency or consistency of stool

Diagnosing IBS in men can be tricky. Men are less likely to see their doctor when they have a health issue, especially a potentially sensitive one like IBS.1,2

Men may experience different symptoms than women. They may have varying severity of symptoms as well. For example, men are less likely to feel fatigue and have a lower quality of life because of their IBS. Men are also less likely to have other mental health issues like anxiety or depression. All of these factors may lead men to seek care later or take longer to receive a diagnosis of IBS.2

Types of IBS in males

There are 4 types of IBS:1

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)
  • IBS unspecified type (IBS-U)

Overall, men are more likely to have IBS-D, while women have more IBS-C.1,2

The relationship between males and IBS

Aside from how often men and women seek healthcare, there are other reasons men may be less likely to be diagnosed with IBS. One theory centers around sex hormones, specifically androgens such as testosterone. Androgens may reduce pain perception. They might also reduce the frequency or severity of perceived IBS symptoms.1-3

Some experts have pointed out that diagnosis differences change over time. For example, in late teenage years into mid-adulthood, women are the majority of those diagnosed. However, sex differences tend to even out later in life.2

While the underlying cause of IBS for men and women is not well understood, the same theories exist for both groups. These include:1-3

  • Increased gut sensitivity
  • Changes in the gut microbiome
  • Previous infections in the gut
  • Issues with how well food moves through the gut
  • Stress
  • Mental health issues

How the gut and brain talk to each other (the gut-brain axis) is thought to be involved in both men and women.1-3

Treating IBS in men

Overall, treating IBS is similar across all groups. These include:1,2

  • Dietary changes
  • Drugs
  • Reducing stress
  • Controlling pain

Fewer men participate in clinical trials than women. This makes their response to some treatments less well-known. Some studies have suggested that men may respond differently to certain drugs. However, more information is needed to determine the true relationship, if any.1,2

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Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: September 2021