IBS and Your Hormones

Did you know that women are more likely to have IBS than men? Around 10-15% of the world’s population is living with IBS. What exactly is IBS and is its prevalence among women connected to our hormones?  
Adam Hamdi
Written by

Coni Longden-Jefferson

Did you know that women are more likely to have IBS than men? Around 10-15% of the world’s population is living with IBS - aka Irritable Bowel Syndrome - and around 2 in 3 of those people are women. But what exactly is IBS and is its prevalence among women connected to our hormones?  


Key Takeaways


  • IBS is a gut health condition that can impact how you digest food and how you go to the toilet 
  • For some people it manifest in constipation and for others it can be chronic diarrhoea 
  • Women are more likely to have IBS than men nd it seems like there could be a connection between our hormonal fluctuations and IBS symptoms 
  • Endometriosis is often misdiagnosed as IBS because the symptoms can be very similar 
  • There is no clear cure for IBS but you can manage symptoms through diet and lifestyle - and by taking a probiotic like MyProbiotic 


What is IBS?


Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a condition that involves a variety of intestinal symptoms that generally occur together. Symptoms can present differently in different people but usually involve issues digesting food and going to the toilet. For some people this could be chronic diarrhoea, for others, they may often feel constipated - or it could be a combination of both! It’s also not unusual for people struggling with IBS to suffer from weight loss, painful bloating and abdominal pain. 

One of the complex things about diagnosing IBS is that it is known as a functional gut disorder. This means that whilst the gut is clearly not working the way it should be, there are often no visual abnormalities - things like sore or tears - so doctors have to make a diagnosis based on symptoms - which can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis (but more on that later).

Whilst IBS is not a life-threatening condition, it can have a huge impact on your quality of life. In fact, in an impact report on IBS done in 2016, more than 70% of patients interviewed indicated that their symptoms interfere with everyday life and 46% report missing work or school due to IBS.  In the same report, IBS patients even said they would give up around 25% of their remaining life expectancy to be from symptoms. 


IBS in Women


Research indicates that IBS is twice as common among women compared to men. Whilst this might not be totally accurate - the research can only count people who report their symptoms! - it’s still an interesting skew and it’s not clear why this happens. 

Interestingly there seems a difference in how IBS symptoms present between men and women. For example, women reportedly tend to suffer more from IBS-C (constipation) than men, who more frequently suffer from IBS-D (diarrhoea). Because women tend to have more constipation, they are also more likely to experience bloating and abdominal pain.  

But why are women more susceptible to the condition and why do they experience it differently? The answer could potentially lie in their hormones. 


IBS & Hormones


It seems like women are more likely to suffer from IBS between the ages of 20 and 70 - after 70, things seem to level out and men and women are equally susceptible to the condition. So what does that tell us? Well, it might imply that IBS is connected to the years our hormones - and menstrual cycle - are most active. 

And this does make sense! After all, we already know hormones like oestrogen and progesterone have an impact on the way our gut operates - hence the dreaded period poops.

Just before your period, your body releases hormones known as prostaglandins. These hormones have various roles in your body, including encouraging your uterine lining to shed.  However, prostaglandins can also make other muscles in the area contract - including in your intestines and bowels, which is why you might find you need to go to the toilet more often during this time - and why IBS symptoms might feel worse during this phase of your menstrual cycle.  

However, it is not just the changes in our menstrual cycle that can exacerbate symptoms. It seems like IBS symptoms can be more severe around the time when hormones are going through huge changes - such as menopause and pregnancy. 


IBS and Endometriosis


We couldn’t talk about IBS without talking about Endometriosis. Whilst the two are completely different conditions there is a lot of crossover with symptoms. Abdominal pain - check. Uncomfortable bloating - check. Gut health issues - check!. This can often lead to Endometriosis (which is notoriously difficult to get a diagnosis for) being misdiagnosed as IBS. This can sometimes mean a patient is referred down a completely incorrect treatment pathway which can add years to the already frustrating process of getting the support they actually need. 

Everyone's endo and IBS will present differently, but if you are struggling with things like heavy periods or painful sex, these are not common signs of IBS - so make sure you highlight these to your doctor. 

However, it is possible to have both conditions at the same time - and in fact, people with endo are three times more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome as well.  Reducing inflammation can help to manage symptoms of both IBS and Endo - and this can often be done through lifestyle changes. 

How To Manage IBS Symptoms


Just like endometriosis, the symptoms of IBS can have a huge impact on your quality of life. There is no signal cure for IBS but adapting your diet and lifestyle can help to reduce the severity of symptoms.


Keep a food diary - Everyone’s gut microbiome is different, so our symptoms can differ a lot. Understanding what foods make your IBS symptoms worse and when things are calmer can help you understand what makes your gut happy.


Reduce or eliminate trigger foods - Once you understand your trigger foods, you can adapt your diet and start to reduce foods that exacerbate symptoms. Some common trigger foods include milk, carbonated beverages, fried foods and alcohol. 


Eat homemade meals - Another great way to manage your diet is to focus on homemade meals. Cooking meals from scratch will naturally reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet. 


Reduce stress - Are mental health, menstrual health and gut health all intrinsically linked so managing your stress levels can help to reduce symptoms of IBS. 


Take a probiotic - Probiotics can help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut which can be disrupted by IBS - and make symptoms even worse. Finding a probiotic that is created with your hormonal balance in mind - like our MyProbiotic - can also help if you want to support your menstrual health at the same time.