Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can strike anyone. Marked by uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal discomfort, the impact of IBS can range from a mild inconvenience to a debilitating condition. Although IBS can affect both men and women at any age, the overwhelming majority of those affected are women.
“Most people don’t realize that IBS is predominantly a women’s syndrome,” says Thomas McKenna, MD, gastroenterologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “More than half of the patients who visit a gastroenterologist for their symptoms are women.”
One of the reasons women are more likely to be diagnosed could be that their symptoms, while similar to men’s, can also cause worsened menstrual symptoms. Women with IBS often experience more painful and frequent bouts of typical menstrual symptoms like constipation and bloating, as well as less common symptoms like fatigue, backaches, nausea and insomnia.
However, the effects of IBS don’t stop there. It can also increase the likelihood of long-term gynecologic problems like endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, decreased libido and painful intercourse.
“Anyone who has experienced the symptoms of IBS can tell you that it is a debilitating disease. Many patients are putting their lives on hold to cope with the symptoms,” says Dr. McKenna. “However, for women, the effects of these symptoms can extend far beyond IBS and affect other areas of their health, as well.”
Although additional research is needed to find a direct link between the gastrointestinal symptoms of IBS and worsened menstrual symptoms, it’s important for women and physicians to be aware that the conditions often co-exist.
Fortunately, there are ways to help control your IBS and menstrual symptoms. Dietary modifications, regular exercise, and medication can all help keep your symptoms in check and allow you to return to the activities you enjoy.
If you think you may be affected by IBS, make an appointment with your physician. Though some patients suffering from IBS symptoms are embarrassed to discuss their symptoms, an appointment with your physician can help you find relief. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.