A surge protector with different animated socket faces is on the floor of a dark room. There is also a shadow of a window with rain coming down.

IBS And “Power Surges”

If you’re a woman of a certain age, you may be wondering: Will menopause make my IBS symptoms better or worse?

The answer is: Yes. Maybe. No. Who knows?

My first hot flash and IBS

For me, my first full-on hot flash (I prefer to call them “power surges”) a few years ago was accompanied by a horrifying IBS pain flare-up. It was the kind I couldn’t even hide – I was a doubled over and moaning in pain, as sweat dripped from my face. My husband came and sat with me and rubbed my back, unable to help any other way.

After that, I was terrified of getting another power surge, which I knew was inevitable. Though there are risks associated with hormone replacement therapy, it started to sound attractive. It turns out that estrogen replacement, at least, may not improve IBS symptoms anyway. But fortunately for me, that super flare-up was a one-time occurrence. I think it caught my “stomach brain” off guard, and the gut overreacted. Still, there’s definitely a link for me between emotions such as anxiety, stress or fear and spawning BOTH hot flashes and gut symptoms. Sex hormones affect the motor and sensory function of the GI tract.

Research about menopause and IBS

There aren’t a lot of studies looking at the impact of the menopause transition on IBS symptoms – not high on the research priority list, evidently. The findings that do exist have been fairly inconsistent – some studies show that IBS symptoms improve with menopause. Others report that symptoms worsen.

It feels like a see-saw. Some studies report that the onset of perimenopause, when ovarian hormones decline, can trigger the onset of IBS. Or maybe it’s really due to the presence of sex hormones.1Women are most likely to have IBS during their late teens to mid-40s, after all, which is when reproductive hormones are at their highest levels.2

Many women apparently report an increase in gastrointestinal symptoms immediately before and during their menstrual cycle.3 Personally, I never noticed a correlation; I had uterine fibroids, so my aggressive periods masked every other sensation.

Some postmenopausal women might see fewer IBS symptoms to decrease, while other studies show the severity of IBS symptoms increases after menopause. In one study, gas and excessive flatulence were more common in postmenopausal than premenopausal healthy women.4

What can we do?

Really, we shouldn’t be surprised, should we? Nothing about this condition is straightforward; very little is predictable. Much of what we experience seems unique to ourselves. For many of us, healthcare professionals haven’t been able to give us any definitive answers. Whenever our hormonal levels change, though, we can expect other functions of our body to change too. I hope that your IBS changes in a positive direction!

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