Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic and functional digestive disorder that affects your large intestine (colon). Abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, are amongst the most common symptoms.
A functional disease means that there are no specific tests or markers and the diagnosis is all based on symptoms. It is not a default diagnosis when everything else is ruled out, but more likely, a distinct diagnosis based on various criterias (those criterias tells your doctors how frequently and when a specific mix of symptoms should be happening in order to give you a diagnosis).
While anyone can develop IBS, the condition is more common in women, affecting from 1.5 to 3 times more females than males.
Why is that?
The exact reasons for IBS are still not very clear but one thing experts can say for sure, is that your gender does play a role.
With regard to symptoms, women more often report abdominal pain and constipation-related symptoms, while men more commonly report diarrhea-related symptoms.
IBS Symptoms in women:
We know it, women suffer from constipation and as a matter of fact, IBS-C is more prevalent among women, as they suffer constipation in 40% of the time, compared to 21% for men.
Mental stress contributes to constipation just as bad as physiological factors.
As well as concerns over hygiene, being embarrassed over the smell and noise while in public bathrooms or at work, inconvenience of using bathrooms outside of home.
Women find it difficult to let go of their feces and they have to know that the conscious withholding of stools definitely contributes to constipation. This taboo around women and pooping has to stop!
If diarrhea occurs often amongst people with IBS, for most women this symptom starts around their menstrual period and starts with an urgent need to have bowel movements.
Diarrhea is classified as frequent loose stools, often with lower abdominal pain and cramping that improves after a bowel movement. You may also notice mucus in your stool.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS):
Before the menstrual period, some women will feel emotional and physical symptoms.
Those can be headaches, mood swing, back pain, constipation, diarrhea, tiredness or stress. 3 to 8 So yes, PMS is definitely part of the game in IBS.
- Urinary incontinence:
When IBS started to be studied, a report released in 2010 showed that the discomforts and pains that IBS female patients had triggered urinary incontinence. This loss of control means that there is an urge to urinate more often and leads to urine leakage, especially during the night.
Urination can also be more painful.
This condition is a painful gynecological disorder where tissues inside the uterus, called endometrium, tend to develop outside the uterus, especially in the bowels.
Women suffering from endometriosis have shown to be subject to IBS more than others.
- Pelvic pain:
If pelvic pain is not uncommon, for women with IBS, the soar can be permanent.
The condition is experienced when a sore occurs below the umbilicus. This pain is rather common for women with IBS as it occurs for one third of the cases.
- Pelvic organ prolapse:
Women fear, rightfully so, this condition. The organs that are close to the pelvic floor can fall when the tissues and the muscles in this area show a certain weakness.
Women are more likely to suffer from organ falling out because of the permanent condition that impacts the pelvic muscle.
- Painful sex:
Pain during intercourse and other types of sexual dysfunction are known IBS symptoms in females. Pain during sex is more likely to occur during deep penetration.
People with IBS also report a lack of sexual desire and difficulty getting aroused. This can lead to insufficient lubrication in women, which can also make sex painful.
Probably for social reasons, women feel more stress and anxiety when it comes to IBS as it is a well-known triggering factor.
The shame that women feel concerning their bodily functions can have a deep psychological impact, as they feel they need to be more in control of their body.
IBS Symptoms in men:
- Diarrhea, the most common symptom:
As mentioned, diarrhea is the most common symptom of IBS male patients.
The urge to have bowel movements is of course one of the most commonly recognized descriptions of diarrhea. Stools are liquid, loose and watery and lower-abdominal pain is quite common in IBS with men.
The hormone trail needs to be further investigated as it could explain the differences between men and women, and it could lead to new findings in the way IBS symptoms could be improved.
Most of the time, men are more likely to experience problems with diarrhea and frequent stools.
They are less likely to experience pain in comparison to women and doctors think that it’s probably linked to testosterone and other androgens (male hormones).
Some male hormones might play a key role in how pain is managed by men. They are generally known as androgens, and among them, one is mentioned quite often : testosterone.
This difference reported in levels of testosterone gives a look of how this hormone functions as a pain regulator, and furthermore impacts the development of IBS.
The lack of hormone variations in men, the way men deal with stress and anxiety, and gut sensitivity are some of the factors that must be taken into account – the lack of interest from researchers in this domain only leads to speculations.
Another factor is the luteinizing hormone. It has been noticed that middle-aged men with a lower level of luteinizing hormone tend to suffer more from IBS.
Last, but not least, the way hormones affect the gut microbiota can be significant and needs to be the subject of deeper studies in the future.
Men also tend to experience more interpersonal problems than women as a result of their IBS and are less likely to seek medical attention than women are.