Are You At Risk For IBS?

Written by: Truc Thanh | Last reviewed: June 2016. | Last updated: May 2017

It is still not fully understood what causes IBS, but studies have shown that certain factors can make people more susceptible to developing IBS.1,2 People with IBS may have only one or some of these risk factors.

Young age

About half of the people with IBS reported experiencing their initial symptoms before the age of 35 years.3 Yet, IBS typically occurs in people between 25 and 54 years of age, but the majority of people are younger than 50 years.3,4


Females have a higher risk of IBS than males. It’s been reported that females were nearly two-times more likely to report symptoms of IBS than males; however, this may be because females are more likely to see a doctor.5

Family history of IBS

Someone with a family history of IBS is approximately two times more likely to report IBS symptoms.5 The genetic connection to IBS may be a predisposition certain people have to hypersensitivity, triggers to inflammation, and pain response, which lead to symptoms of IBS.6

Mental health problem

Higher stress levels and stressful life events were associated with people who had IBS. Symptoms of anxiety and depression also were more common among people with IBS.5 Stress increases the likelihood that there will be changes to the body’s immune system and the proper functioning of the intestines, leading to altered or painful bowel movements.2

Food sensitivities

Food hypersensitivities may also trigger IBS symptoms. Approximately 25% of cases of IBS were reportedly due to food sensitivities.5 Food allergies or hypersensitivities may irritate the intestines and lead to abdominal pain.2 Although there are many possible food allergies and hypersensitivities, there is likely a proportion of people with IBS who have sensitivity to certain sugars or carbohydrates (eg, gluten) or is lactose intolerant.2,6

Traveler’s diarrhea, food poisoning, and infectious gastroenteritis

Traveler’s diarrhea, which may be a form of food poisoning, has been reported in some people with IBS.5 Infectious gastroenteritis may trigger inflammation. Up to one-third of IBS cases follow acute gastroenteritis. Symptoms may persist when coupled with stress and anxiety.6

Less common risk factors

Morbidly obese people may be at a higher risk of developing IBS. A more sedentary lifestyle and sleep disorders have also been associated with IBS.5 It’s possible that these factors contribute to IBS symptoms, because people who are morbidly obese may have an overall lower quality of health.

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