Why IBS affects women the most - and what you can do about it

It's a distressing problem, but help is at hand


Women are more likely to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) than men and while their uncomfortable symptoms can be managed, it is also a condition that has a significant effect on everyday life.

abdominal pain

Irritable Bowel System (IBS) is a chronic condition affecting the digestive system. Sufferers are plagued by spells of diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps and bloating. Each episode can last a few days or, in the most extreme cases, continue for weeks and severely impede movement and motivation.

Following a painful episode, the symptoms can often disappear for months at a time. Triggers that can set IBS off again include stress and a weakening of the immune system following other general illness such as flu; travel-induced stomach bugs; and binging on alcohol and food – so remember this one as the winter party season approaches. Some patients notice that particular foods can set off their IBS.

Although there are a number of men who suffer from IBS, women are much more likely to be diagnosed with the condition and there are particular steps women can take to alleviate their symptoms.

Why are women more susceptible to IBS?

Twice as many women as men are diagnosed with IBS. This is partly due to the fact that women are more likely to seek medical help, while some men suffer in silence, but most likely to be a result of women's particular physiological make up.

Hormonal changes lead women's bodies to be more susceptible to diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps and bloating during different stages of their menstrual cycle. IBS in turn is thought to be linked to other gynaecological problems, as women with IBS are also more likely to suffer from period pain or dysmenorrhea and endometriosis.

Hormonal changes also lead women's bodies to be more susceptible to diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps and bloating during different stages of their menstrual cycle.

How do you know if you've got IBS?

We all suffer from some form of stomach complaint occasionally, but it normally gets better. If you're starting to realise that your stomach problems are not one offs and are seeing a pattern of recurrence, it's worth consulting a doctor.


What can you do to alleviate the symptoms?

There are a number of measures you can take that should help the illness to lie dormant for longer and to minimise its effects. Some sufferers find that particular foods can trigger an episode, so it's worth keeping a food diary to see if you can identify a pattern in your diet.

Other women notice their symptoms change as they move through their menstrual cycle and can modify their diet to suit this. It can help, for example, to alter the amount of fibre you're eating to suit what is happening in your body at a certain time. If, for example, you are experiencing constipation you should drink more water and increase your soluble fibre intake - the fibre in these foods dissolve in water and good sources includes oats, barley, rye, fruits and root vegetables.

If diarrhoea is a problem, it's recommended that you cut down on your insoluble fibre - such as whole-grain bread, bran, cereals and nuts.

Overall, as there are so many elements to the dietary changes that may help the condition, it is recommended you get a qualified dietician to create a healthy, balanced eating plan.

There are prescription drugs that will help in the short term, but these largely mask, rather than treat the symptoms and some have unpleasant side effects.

A new oral gel, ENTEROSGEL®, has also been found to be effective in treating IBS and possibly even curing IBS. This drug-free intestinal adsorbent's mineral ingredients are understood to adsorb the bacterial toxins that can cause diarrhoea and gastrointestinal problems and expel them from the gut within 12 hours, helping to improve general gut health, encouraging the mucous membrane to regenerate and reducing inflammation. It is thought that by tackling the root cause of the affliction it could eventually cure it. A recent clinical study published by Minerva Gastroenterological found that a course of ENTEROSGEL® taken three times a day can reduce IBS symptoms, including diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal pain, without side effects.