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Are You At Risk For IBS?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed December 2022

What makes a person more susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is still not fully understood. Researchers believe it is a combination of many factors, including genetics, diet, changes in gut bacteria, how well food moves through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and food sensitivity.1,2

All of these things affect how the brain and gut communicate with each other (brain-gut axis).1,2

Risk factors for IBS

People with IBS may have one or more of the following risk factors:1-3

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family history
  • Mental health problems
  • Food sensitivities
  • Traveler’s diarrhea, infections, or food poisoning
  • Lifestyle risk factors

Young age

IBS is more common in young people and people under age 50.4

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Women are 2 times more likely to develop IBS than men. This is true in most areas of the world.4 It is not understood why women are at an increased risk of having IBS. It could have something to do with having different hormones. Or it could mean that women have more gut sensitivity than men. This is an area that is still being researched.1-4

Family history

If you have a relative with IBS, you may have a greater chance of developing the disorder. This genetic connection could predispose you to gut hypersensitivity, inflammation triggers, and pain responses, which may lead to symptoms. However, conflicting studies show that a family history of IBS does not always mean you will develop the disorder.1-3

Mental health problems

Anxiety and depression are more common in people living with IBS. Some studies have shown that traumatic or stressful events early in life could cause IBS to occur.1-3

Having IBS can trigger anxiety and depression in many people, even if they do not have a history of anxiety or depression. IBS-induced anxiety and depression can make symptoms worse and affect a person’s quality of life.1-4

Food sensitivities

Specific foods may trigger IBS symptoms in some people. For example, dairy, gluten, and certain sugars are common sensitivities in people with IBS.1-4

It can be helpful to keep a food diary to understand your food triggers. Eliminating certain foods from your diet – like fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) – may help ease symptoms.1-4

Traveler’s diarrhea, infections, or food poisoning

Traveler’s diarrhea, which may be a form of food poisoning, has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing IBS. Acute GI infections cause inflammation and changes to the gut microflora.1,2 After having an acute GI infection, a person is 6 times more likely to develop IBS. Symptoms may last longer or be more severe for people with anxiety or depression.1

Lifestyle risk factors

Certain lifestyle habits can also increase the risk of having IBS. The following things can trigger IBS in some people:1,4,5

While you cannot change your age, gender, or genes, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk of developing IBS.4