Why IBS Affects Women Differently: A Capital Digestive Care GI Explains

Yes, irritable bowel syndrome can strike anyone. But women are twice as likely as men to have it, and their symptoms can sometimes be very different. Rockville, MD gastroenterologist Dr. Leigh Lurie explains why.

Silver Spring, MD, Feb. 26, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- By Leigh Lurie, MD

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) affects about 10% of the global population, making it the most common GI disorder in the world. It is a chronic condition affecting the gastrointestinal tract, especially the large intestine or colon. Women are at least twice as likely as men to suffer symptoms from IBS.  Although it isn't entirely clear why, this is thought to be due primarily to hormonal changes.

There are several common signs of IBS:

  • abdominal pain
  • cramping
  • painful gas
  • change in bowel habits
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite


Some people with IBS are more prone to diarrhea, while others may have more constipation. There is also mixed IBS in which bowels alternate between diarrhea and constipation. Women with certain gynecological disorders (endometriosis, for example) may experience more stomach upset than women who don’t.  Any of the symptoms mentioned so far would warrant seeking a trained professional.  If you are over the age of 50 or if your IBS symptoms are associated with weight loss, rectal bleeding, anemia or if you wake up at night to have bowel movements you should see a specialist for an evaluation. 

It is common for IBS to be affected by changes in hormones.  This is why some women notice their symptoms are worse around the time of their period. On the other hand, for many women, pregnancy results in a temporary improvement in IBS symptoms.

Possible IBS Triggers

IBS is likely triggered by food, stress, inflammation, infection and hormones – or even a mix of these things.  When it comes to foods, certain kinds are known to cause more symptoms than others.  

  • Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and ice cream which contain lactose
  • Too much insoluble fiber
  • Fried foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Gluten-containing foods such as wheat, barley and rye
  • Gas-inducing foods
  • Artificial sweeteners 

There is emerging evidence that a diet low in FODMAPs improves symptoms of IBS.  FODMAPs stand for different chemicals that naturally exist in the foods we eat, including fruits and vegetables.

Managing IBS symptoms 

Because IBS is a chronic condition, people who have it should be prepared to manage their symptoms.  For example, if you notice certain foods trigger your symptoms it is best to limit or avoid these foods. It is also important to drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages during the day to stay hydrated.  People are sometimes amazed at how much diet or stress can play a role in triggering symptoms. That said, with diet modification and stress management people can experience tremendous improvement in their symptoms. Even exercise has been shown to decrease symptoms as well as managing stress. In addition, there are medications both over the counter and prescription which may help to further treat symptoms.  If you are having symptoms it is important to discuss them with your health care provider who would be able to prescribe a treatment plan to help you to experience optimal health.  So don't go it alone. 




Leigh Lurie, MD of Rockville explains why IBS sometimes gives women unexpected symptoms. Women are twice as likely as men to have it, and their symptoms can sometimes be very different for a variety of reasons.

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