IBS More Common in Women: Why?

It's well-known in the medical community that women are far more likely than men to have IBS. Unfortunately, women are much more likely than men to suffer from a range of diseases and disorders, including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Interstitial Cystitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome--to name only a few. Yet, the medical community overall seems to have very little answers as to why there is this gender disparity.

IBS, women and menstrual cycle

When it comes to intestinal issues, it was long thought that women were more likely to experience GI symptoms--whether related to or independent of IBS--when they are menstruating. However, recent research has shown women are more likely to have IBS and exhibit IBS symptoms regardless of where they are in their cycles. For instance, a study published in 2017 that examined 193 pre-menopausal women and 179 men under 50 and it was revealed that "Irritable bowel syndrome was more frequently noticed in women than in men." Of these women, it was concluded that "there was no significant difference in their gastrointestinal symptoms according to their menstrual phase." So, regardless of what phase they were in their cycle, women were more likely to have IBS symptoms than men. One interesting nuance discovered in the study was that the diarrhea-dominant type of IBS was more common in men, while women tended to either have IBS-C or alternating IBS.1

IBS, women and painful periods

Yet another study from 2012 found that women with IBS are more likely to have dysmenorrhea (which means painful periods) than women without. More specifically, the study found that of a population of Icelandic women they surveyed in 1996 and then again in 2006, that nearly half (49%) of the women who reported dysmenorrhea in 1996 also had IBS in 1996, while more than a quarter (26%) of women who reported dysmenorrhea in 2006 had IBS as well. 2

I found this fascinating as someone with confirmed endometriosis (which can cause dysmenorrhea) who also has IBS. It seems to make some sense as the reproductive organs associated with menstruation and that cause cramping and pain for some women during their periods, are in close proximity to the intestinal tract (including the colon). So, referred pain could be occurring, or women with endo may have some on of the disease on their bowels, causing IBS-like symptoms. Whatever the case, there seems to be a relatively close connection between bowel problems and menstrual pain in a certain percentage of women.

Do you have dysmenorrhea and IBS? Do you notice IBS symptoms worsen around or during your period, or do you experience symptoms all month-long? Answer in the comments below!

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