We would like to talk about a gut disorder which often, as reported by the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, is “a major women’s health issue” worldwide. Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is the most commonly encountered functional gastrointestinal condition in the world. In this article we will look at IBS symptoms in female sufferers. For more about my IBS sessions in London, click here.
The concise explanation of a “functional disorder” is an ailment where no clear structural or biochemical abnormalities are determined that could clarify the symptoms ad explain why there are showing up.
65% of sufferers of IBS are women
IBS is believed to impact around 10 to 15% of the world’s population. Between 60 and 65% of sufferers are women, suggesting that sex is important. Many individuals with IBS symptoms tend not to look for medical care, which has caused IBS to be described as a “hidden condition”. For gastroenterologists, it is one of the most common disorders we see.
IBS symptoms in female sufferers
So, how exactly does IBS affect individuals and specifically women?
Common IBS symptoms in female sufferers include:
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Diarrhoea or constipation, or alternating constipation and diarrhoea
- Gas and bloated or swollen abdomen
- Variations in bowel movements
- Feeling like you haven’t finished a bowl movement
- Mucus in your stool
- Difficulties eating particular foods, specifically carbohydrates, fats, coffee, spices and alcohol
- Tiredness and problems getting to sleep
How IBS symptoms impact female sufferers
Women can experience their IBS symptoms becoming more serious during their period. Medical professionals have noticed that certain gynaecological issues, such as endometriosis and fibromyalgia, also seem to aggravate symptoms. On the other hand, women who experience IBS symptoms are more prone to be diagnosed with endometriosis. Endometriosis affects the lining of the uterus and other bodily organs, resulting in pain and sometimes brings about infertility.
Women with IBS can experience pain or discomfort during sex, though it does not seem to affect sex drive. IBS also raises the probability of urinary urgency in women and pelvic organ prolapse. Hysterectomy is more prevalent in women with IBS.
Doctors are uncertain as to what brings about IBS but some specific factors appear to raise the likelihood of developing the condition. For example, women who have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse are significantly more likely to experience IBS. In pregnancy, many women experience an improvement in their IBS symptoms. Likewise, symptoms often reduce after menopause.
Psychological impact of IBS symptoms in female sufferers
As well as a variety of unpleasant physical symptoms, it is acknowledged that IBS may have a considerable impact on daily well being for both men and women.
Discomfort and embarrassment can result in anxiety and depression. These emotions in themselves can be a cause of IBS symptoms. They create a vicious circle that is made worse by disturbance to sleep which can be caused by pain, needing to visit the bathroom in the night and anxiety.
Research conclusions about IBS symptoms in female sufferers
Current research may shed some light on why women are more prone to IBS. A study released in Gastroenterology considered data from over 330,000 UK women using the UK Biobank. A further 2,000 individuals around the world were also analysed. The results indicated that a DNA variant relating to chromosome 9, which influences the age at which women have their first period, seems to be connected to an increased risk of IBS.
The study’s co-author, Mauro D’Amato PhD, visiting professor at the Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Medicine, stated the results support existing data which suggests that sex hormones are involved in the development of IBS. He called for further research to determine why IBS may be more prevalent in women.
What to do should female IBS sufferers do?
Should you suffer from IBS symptoms it is important to see a medical professional to rule out a more serious cause, for example Inflammatory Bowel Disease or bowel cancer.
There is no need to suffer in silence. If an IBS diagnosis is established your doctor will be able to advise you on approaches to deal with the condition, including taking medication.
Working with a specialist that can promptly diagnose and keep an eye on your symptoms, will provide you with the best probability to get back to feeling your best.
I provide hypnotherapy to help with reducing IBS symptoms in female sufferers. For information about IBS sessions in London click here.