Do IBS symptoms differ for men?

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

15 June 2018

Do more women have IBS than men?

The answer to this question is a little complicated as some studies suggest that yes, more women than men do have IBS. One particular study, which has been widely reported on, examined 372 men and women below fifty years of age and found that IBS was more common amongst women.1 This could be to do with the hormonal differences between men and women and the changes to patterns of hormones that occur during the menopause and menstruation.

Nevertheless, some experts would argue the opposite – that IBS is not more prevalent amongst women than men. Here the argument is that women are more likely to talk about their health issues and to seek medical assistance. Therefore, more IBS cases are recorded for women whilst the data on men with the condition is lacking.

Also, previously the diagnostic process for IBS was less effective for men than it was for women. Abdominal distension (a build-up of fluid or gas in the abdomen which causes bloating or swelling) is more common amongst women but for many years this was one of the main symptoms used to determine whether a person had IBS or not. Although the process for diagnosing IBS has now changed, in the past this meant that many men would have been told they did not have the condition when it’s possible they did. 

This approach to determining whether or not a person had IBS was also used in many clinical studies meaning men are often misrepresented here.

What’s more, this conclusion that IBS tends to affect women more than men means that there has been less work into men with IBS so, as I said, it’s complicated!

IBS symptoms

As I’ve discussed in many of my previous blogs, some of the most common IBS symptoms include stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence. Also, occasionally people will experience lethargy, sickness, backache, bladder problems, pain during sex and incontinence. There’s also the possibility for feelings like anxiety and low mood to emerge as well.

However, there are no differences between the intestinal structure of a man and that of a woman and so these symptoms are not confined to any one gender. Instead any differences in symptoms are the result of how people respond to treatment, as well as how symptoms manifest themselves in the individual in the first place. 

This means that symptoms vary between different women as well as between men and women so the issue has less to do with gender and more to do with the individual. 

Differences in symptoms

Still, despite the similarities in our digestive systems, major differences elsewhere in our bodies could cause some variation in the severity of IBS symptoms in men and women. Hormonal differences for example, could cause women’s symptoms to become more intense than men’s.

Severity of symptoms

Many women complain that their IBS symptoms get more severe before and during their period. This could be to do with hormones like oestrogen which, when released during the menstruation cycle, could increase the sensitivity of the gut. This, in turn, sometimes worsens IBS symptoms like bloating, mood swings and pain.

Type of symptoms

Although IBS symptoms for men and women are mostly the same, women can also experience PMS, fatigue and painful menstruation.

Also, one study found that diarrhoea-type symptoms were more common amongst male IBS sufferers. However, this conclusion must be approached with a little bit of caution as more research into the issue is needed.

Managing IBS

The IBS treatments available are the same for both men and women and involve things like changes to diet and lifestyle, as well as conventional medications. However, you could also use soothing herbal remedies to help manage your symptoms as well.

  • Tormentil maintains healthy lower bowel function so is particularly useful if IBS means you are suffering from diarrhoea
  • Silicol gel soothes the walls of the intestine and acts as a protective barrier in the digestive tract. This means it can be beneficial when issues like stomach cramps and diarrhoea occur
  • IBS often affects mood, intensifying feelings of stress and anxiety. To help deal with this you could try our Stress Relief Daytime drops.

Key points

  • Both men and women can experience IBS but symptoms vary between individuals
  • There are very small differences in the IBS symptoms experienced by men and women 
  • It’s long been said that more women than men experience IBS but with a lack of research on men with the condition, this can’t be so clearly argued.  

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