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IBS Symptoms in Women, Causes and Treatment

Updated on February 17, 2014

Irritable Bowel Syndrome in women has puzzled many of the female population and even medical experts. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) affects more women than men and research, so far, has not yielded any scientific explanation for this. Yet, it is believed that women report their symptoms and seek medical advice quickly than men which contribute to the high recorded prevalence of IBS in women.

Women with IBS often complain about abdominal pain and cramps, as well as alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea. Irritable bowel syndrome in women rarely results in serious health problems. However, it could be annoying and even disabling. That is why it is important to understand its occurrence in order to make the needed changes and manage the condition properly. Diagnosis is highly individualized based on the accompanying symptoms and the patient’s medical history.

Cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a poorly understood gastrointestinal condition. It is an umbrella term used to describe a set of symptoms that occur all together. Under normal conditions, the intestinal muscles contract in a coordinated manner as food travels from the stomach to the rectum. In an IBS case, muscle contractions are either fast or slow thereby causing diarrhea or constipation, respectively. Experts believe that IBS occurs as a result of a combination of several factors, one of which is the brain-gut communication problem. It could also be a consequence of mental health problems, intestinal muscle problems, nerve sensitivity, gastrointestinal infection or bacterial overgrowth.

Incidence of Irritable bowel syndrome in Women

It has been found that irritable bowel syndrome in women comprise around 75% of IBS cases. It happens at any age but is found to occur more frequently among teenagers and young adults. In fact, IBS symptoms have been the common complain among females below 45 years of age. Studies also showed that many of the sufferers have compromised immunities and sensitive intestines. Furthermore, experts believe that the prevalence of IBS in the female population has something to do with the constant hormonal changes they have to go through in life. This is further supported by the fact that many women report that the symptoms worsen when they are about to menstruate or during menstrual flow.

Factors that cause Irritable bowel syndrome in women

There are a number of factors that may explain why IBS is more prevalent in women than in men. These are:

  • Menstruation

Hormones fluctuate throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle and hormonal changes are held responsible in causing abnormal bowel habits before and during menstrual periods. It has been found that IBS symptoms worsen when a woman is ovulating. This further supports the speculation that female hormones worsen IBS.

  • Depression and anxiety

Psychological conditions have been found to have an impact on gut sensitivity. Experts are yet to establish the relationship between them but studies have shown that women suffering from anxiety and depressive disorders also exhibit IBS symptoms.

  • Gut sensitivity

Studies have revealed that women have more sensitive gut than men and this could be another reason why women get IBS easily compared to men.

Aside from physical and psychological factors, the prevalence of IBS in women could likewise simply be attributed to the woman’s yearly visit to the doctor for a Pap smear or routine health check up. Additional tests are done to properly determine the cause of the symptoms, leading to IBS diagnosis.

Irritable bowel syndrome in women diagnosis and treatment

IBS diagnosis is quite tricky because its symptoms mimic other bowel diseases, so the doctor must rule out other bowel problems before finally diagnosing the condition as IBS. The patient should expect to go through a series of tests such as blood tests, stool test, X-ray, sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. The doctor will also check the patient’s medical history as well as conduct a physical exam.

Treating irritable bowel syndrome in women is highly individualized as every woman is different. Treatment is aimed towards helping the patient manage the symptoms and finding what works best is often a long and tiring trial-and-error process. That is why it is very important for IBS patients to work closely with their doctors.

Among the various ways to treat IBS are:

  • Dietary modification

This is often the first line of treatment for women with IBS. It often involves avoiding foods and drinks that can trigger IBS symptoms, so the patient must keep a food diary. She is also encouraged to gradually increase her consumption of fiber as well as engage in regular exercise. The patient will also benefit from changing her eating patterns from eating three large meals to six small but frequent meals per day.

  • Medication

The doctor may prescribe some medications to help with the IBS symptoms. Sufferers should ask their doctors about the side effects and how to manage them should they arise. Some of the medications used are laxatives, anti-diarrheal, antidepressants and anti-cholinergic or anti-spasmodic, including fiber supplements.

  • Stress management

Stress management can come in the form of hypnotherapy, talk therapy, mindfulness training and other stress-training exercises.

Irritable bowel syndrome in women should be treated to improve the overall quality of life of the IBS patient.


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