IBS and Women: How Does Your Period Affect IBS?

Women who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may notice that their symptoms may change at different points in their menstrual cycles. In fact, this is a very common phenomenon that many women with IBS experience. It is likely due to changes in the amount of hormones present in a woman’s body at different points in her menstrual cycle.1

How hormones affect IBS symptoms

Hormones are chemicals that are produced by the body and circulate through the body’s systems. The primary function of hormones is to deliver information that affects and controls how those systems function.1

The sex hormones called estrogen and progesterone play an important role in controlling a woman’s menstrual cycle. These hormones have what are called “receptor cells” that are located inside of the digestive tract. This means that the digestive tract is directly affected by the changing levels of these two hormones in a woman’s body at different points in her cycle.1

One study found that half of women with IBS had bowel-related symptoms during their periods, compared with around one-third of women without IBS. Researchers are still working to understand exactly how and why the same hormonal changes can cause IBS symptoms to get much worse for some women but not for other women.1,2

IBS symptoms during the menstrual cycle

Each woman’s IBS symptoms can change in different ways at different stages of their menstrual cycle. But there are some common trends. During a woman’s period, the levels of sex hormones in her body are at their lowest. During this time, many women have an increase in the severity of IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and bloating.1

Many women also find that during the days immediately after ovulation in the menstrual cycle (called the luteal phase), symptoms such as bloating and constipation can get worse. For some women, this can last until the beginning of their periods.1,2

Link between IBS and a period?

Women who have IBS tend to have more frequent and severe symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, backache, cramping, bloating, and food sensitivity around the time of their periods. Women with IBS are more likely to have painful menstruation and chronic pelvic pain, which is reported by around one-third of women with IBS.1,2

During and after menopause, the levels of sex hormones in a woman’s body stop fluctuating. While this may seem like it would improve symptoms, studies show that postmenopausal women actually have worse IBS symptoms. More research is needed to understand the exact link between hormones and IBS symptoms.3

Tips for dealing with IBS and your period

Some women find it helpful to keep a diary that tracks their menstrual cycle and their IBS symptoms. This can help you to identify patterns with IBS and your period that you may not have noticed before and develop strategies to lessen symptoms. For example, if you tend to have more gas during your period you can try to avoid food triggers that cause gas.2

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