Why IBS Affects Women More Than Men: Unpacking the Gender Discrepancy

Why IBS Affects Women More Than Men: Unpacking the Gender Discrepancy

Is there a difference in the prevalence of IBS between genders?


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects a significant portion of the population. Studies have shown that the condition is more prevalent in women than in men, with a female-to-male ratio of 2–2.5:1 in terms of those who seek medical care [1].


Factors that may impact the prevalence of IBS between women and men


However, it's important to note that the prevalence of IBS can vary depending on various factors such as clinical setting, race, geography, community base, study population, definition criteria, and method of data collection.


Additionally, hormonal differences, stress, and differences in healthcare-seeking behaviors may all contribute to this gender discrepancy. As such, it is essential for both men and women to be aware of the symptoms of IBS and seek treatment if necessary, regardless of their gender.


Beyond the prevalence across genders, up to 25% of women will experience IBS at some point in their lives [2].


hormones effect on ibs

Hormonal differences


One possible explanation for the higher incidence of IBS in women is hormonal differences. Women experience hormonal fluctuations throughout their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause, which can cause changes in bowel movements and increased gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.


Research has shown that the effects of hormonal fluctuations on the digestive system are complex [3]. For example, some studies suggest that high levels of estrogen can slow down the movement of the intestines, leading to constipation, while others indicate that progesterone can speed up the movement of the intestines, causing diarrhea.


Moreover, the severity of IBS symptoms in women may also be affected by their stress levels, diet, and lifestyle choices. Studies have shown that stress can trigger IBS symptoms, while a diet high in fat and low in fiber can exacerbate gastrointestinal issues.


Therefore, it is important for women with IBS to work with their healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that takes into account their individual symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle factors. This may include medication, dietary changes, stress management techniques, and regular exercise. By working together, healthcare providers and patients can effectively manage IBS symptoms and improve quality of life.


Impact of stress on IBS

Impact of stress on IBS


Another possible explanation for the disparity in IBS symptoms experienced by men and women is the difference in the way stress is handled by each gender. Stress has been identified as a trigger for IBS symptoms and research has indicated that women tend to experience more stress than men [4].


This could be attributed to several factors, including societal expectations, work-life balance, and personal relationships. Women are often expected to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities, which can lead to higher stress levels, thereby increasing the risk of developing IBS symptoms. As such, it is important to recognize the impact of stress on IBS and to develop strategies for managing stress in both men and women.


Seeking medical attention for digestive issues


Seeking medical attention for digestive issues


In addition to women being more likely to seek medical attention for their symptoms, they are also more likely to engage in preventive healthcare practices, such as regular check-ups and screenings.


Additionally, women may be more health-conscious overall, engaging in activities such as exercise and healthy eating habits.


Furthermore, it's important to note that women's health issues have historically been given less attention and research than men's health issues. This has led to a lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding women's health, which can contribute to a culture where women's symptoms are not taken as seriously as men's.


While progress has been made in recent years, there is still much work that needs to be done to ensure that women's health concerns are given the attention and resources they deserve.


As a result of these factors, women may be more likely to report their symptoms to their healthcare provider and seek treatment, whereas men may feel more pressure to "tough it out" and may be more hesitant to seek medical attention.


This underscores the importance of promoting gender equity in healthcare, and ensuring that all individuals feel empowered to take control of their health and seek the care they need.


Further research is needed to fully understand the reasons for the gender discrepancy in IBS prevalence. It is possible that a combination of hormonal differences, stress, and differences in healthcare-seeking behaviors may all play a role. However, it is important for both men and women to be aware of the symptoms of IBS and seek treatment if necessary, regardless of their gender.




[1] Kim YS, Kim N. Sex-Gender Differences in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2018 Oct 1;24(4):544-558. doi: 10.5056/jnm18082. PMID: 30347934; PMCID: PMC6175559

[2] Women and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) • Faculty and Investigators at the UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders conducted a National Survey of the Effects of Changes in Female Sex Hormones on Irritable Bowel Symptoms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/wp-content/uploads/sites/450/2017/10/IBS-in-Women.pdf

[3] Mulak A, Taché Y, Larauche M. Sex hormones in the modulation of irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(10):2433-2448. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i10.2433

[4] Mocny-Pachońska K, Trzcionka A, Doniec RJ, Sieciński S, Tanasiewicz M. The Influence of Gender and Year of Study on Stress Levels and Coping Strategies among Polish Dental. Medicina (Kaunas) . 2020;56(10):531. Published 2020 Oct 12. doi:10.3390/medicina56100531

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