Are There Differences In IBS Symptoms for Men and Women?

Irritable bowel syndrome isn’t having the occasional bout of diarrhea, constipation, or an upset stomach. IBS is a medical condition that can interfere with your daily routine and negatively affect your quality of life. While there aren’t any significant differences in IBS symptoms for men and women, men are statistically less likely to seek medical care for irritable bowel syndrome.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder of bowel function. IBS itself does not refer to a structural or anatomic problem. Instead, the condition includes a range of symptoms: constipation, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, urgency with diarrhea. While less common IBS can also include symptoms that do not relate to the GI tract: urinary incontinence, urgency in urination, muscle aches and pain, fatigue, headaches, and difficulty with sexual function.

Irritable bowel syndrome is the most common disease diagnosed by gastroenterologists. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, only half of the U.S. adult population with irritable bowel syndrome is diagnosed with IBS. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of U.S. adults suffer from IBS symptoms, but just five to seven percent of adults have been diagnosed.

Irritable bowel syndrome is not associated with an increased risk for other medical conditions. However, IBS does affect a person’s enjoyment of life. People with IBS report a lower quality of life than those without irritable bowel disease.

Does IBS affect women more than men?

Men are diagnosed with IBS less often than women. However, it’s unclear why there are fewer IBS cases among men than women. Some research indicates that the different ways men and women process sensations in the intestines could be a factor.

Women are also more likely to seek medical care for health problems than men. While women are more likely to be diagnosed with IBS, the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are the same for men and women.

While IBS symptoms are the same for men and women, men are statistically less likely to seek medical care for irritable bowel syndrome. Click To Tweet

Know when to see a doctor for IBS

Sometimes IBS symptoms result from diet or lifestyle choices. Some people can relieve these symptoms by eating more fiber and getting more exercise. However, you should talk to your primary care provider if you experience frequent IBS symptoms, even after changing diet and lifestyle, if you experience weight loss, or if the symptoms interfere with your daily life.

You can’t diagnose yourself with irritable bowel syndrome — a doctor must diagnose the condition. 

Irritable bowel syndrome is a treatable condition. IBS is not life threatening, but it does affect your quality of life. It’s important to talk to your PCP for this reason. It’s also important to talk to a medical professional because the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome aren’t specific to IBS. They could indicate a more serious problem, and getting the correct care and treatment as soon as possible could be key in preventing or slowing the progression of the disease.

Your primary care provider will discuss the best actions to take, which may include a referral to a gastroenterologist.