Who Gets IBS?

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

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. About 10 to 15 percent of people in the United States have IBS.1,2

IBS is more common in young people and people under the age of 50. But IBS can still impact children, teens, and older adults. IBS symptoms can also be different in men, women, and depending on your age.1-3

IBS in women

IBS is more common in women than it is in men. In fact, women are 2 times more likely to have IBS than men. This trend is seen not only in the US but across the globe.1-5

There are many theories about why women are diagnosed with IBS more than men. One theory is that women are more likely to visit their doctor and talk about sensitive IBS-related symptoms more than men.3,5

Another theory is that sex hormones in women, like estrogen, may:3,5

  • Lead to an earlier IBS diagnosis
  • Impact how food moves through the digestive tract (motility) – food moves too slow or too fast
  • Increase the sensitivity of the gut lining
  • Worsen IBS symptoms during a person's menstrual cycle

Interestingly, a 2020 study found that post-menopausal women have more severe IBS symptoms than pre-menopausal women.3

For women, constipation and stomach pain are more commonly reported symptoms. This leads to a higher diagnosis of IBS with constipation (IBS-C) in women than in men.3,5

Several other chronic conditions that overlap with IBS, such as fibromyalgia and migraine, are more common in women. Women are also more likely to experience the following, which can amplify IBS symptoms and lead to lower quality of life:5

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Increased stress
  • Fatigue

IBS in men

Diagnosing IBS in men can be tricky. Men may be less likely to see their doctor when they have a health issue, especially a potentially sensitive one like IBS.5

Men with IBS tend to have different symptoms than women. A 2020 study found that men with IBS are more likely to have IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), whereas women are more likely to have IBS-C.3,5

According to studies, men have less severe IBS symptoms when compared with women. They are less likely to feel fatigued and less likely to have a lower quality of life because of their IBS. Men are also less likely to have mental health issues like anxiety or depression. All of these factors may lead men to seek care later or take longer to receive an IBS diagnosis.5

Ample research has been done on the link between women’s sex hormones and IBS. The same cannot be said for men. Testosterone, the male sex hormone, may protect against pain sensitivity in the gut, but more research is needed.5

IBS in children and teens

IBS in children has been rising recently, but there is limited research on this. IBS symptoms in children are similar to the symptoms that occur in adults. In children, the most common IBS symptoms include:6,7

  • Pain in the abdomen, often related to bowel movements
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

From the available information, young girls and boys are equally affected. As kids grow into teenagers, it may be more likely for girls to develop IBS than boys.1-4,6

The gut microbiome plays a huge role in our lifelong health. Ensure your child gets the right vitamins, nutrients, and bacteria that the gut needs to thrive.8

Causes of IBS

While the underlying cause of IBS is not well understood, the same theories exist for women, men, and children. These include:1,2,5

  • Increased gut sensitivity
  • Changes in the gut microbiome
  • Previous infections in the gut
  • Motility issues
  • Stress
  • Mental health issues

How the gut and brain talk to each other (the gut-brain axis) is an area of increased interest and research. Experts believe it has a big impact on why IBS symptoms develop in the first place.2,5

Risk factors of IBS

There are several risk factors for IBS. You are more likely to have IBS if you have the following:1,2

  • Family history of IBS
  • History of anxiety and/or depression
  • Changes in your gut – for example, an infection

Treatment for IBS

IBS treatment aims to reduce overall symptoms and improve quality of life. Treating IBS symptoms may take several different approaches, such as:1,2,5

  • Changes to diet and lifestyle
  • Counseling and psychotherapy
  • Drug therapy
  • Microbial therapies

Talk with your doctor

If you have symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, stomach cramping, and/or stomach pain, it could be IBS. Talk with your doctor and share your symptoms with them. They can help create an individualized treatment plan and help you manage symptoms.2

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