IBS in Women Signs and Symptoms

Published date: September 19, 2022 | Modified date:

Does IBS cause irregular periods?  Women with IBS may notice a correlation between their IBS symptoms and their period, and some women find that their IBS is worse around their period. For one, there is a physical relationship between the uterus and the intestinal tract. The cramping associated with your period can trigger cramping in the digestive tract, which is immediately adjacent to the uterus and plays a role in IBS. 

On a biochemical level, the two areas are also related. Changes in your sex hormones associated with your period can contribute to your IBS. But it’s not just a one-way street. Your IBS can also affect your period in a variety of ways, including throwing off your menstrual cycle.

Birth Control and IBS

Some women find that birth control pills have an impact on their IBS. This is again a two-way street. In some cases, women find that birth control makes their IBS worse, but other women have discovered that birth control has helped to improve some of the common symptoms of IBS. This is impossible to predict, but it is well known that different types of birth control contain different levels of hormones. 

IBS in Pregnant Women

IBS in pregnant women is surprisingly common, although it’s often not recognized and may be misdiagnosed. Pregnant women frequently experience altered bowel function. Pregnancy tends to lead to more constipation, nausea, and reflux. However, if you previously had diarrhea, you may actually find that being pregnant temporarily helps your symptoms.

Constipation can be just as uncomfortable as diarrhea when constipation is the predominant symptom. And diarrhea and cramping in pregnancy are even more challenging than usual. It’s important to recognize IBS in pregnant women so that it can be properly addressed. 

IBS and Sex

IBS is an underappreciated contributor to not only menstrual disorders but sexual dysfunction and lack of interest in sex in women of all ages. Does IBS in older women affect sexual intercourse?  It certainly can, and many women describe a lack of interest in sex when suffering from IBS. 

What Causes IBS in Women

As many women have experienced, it is not unusual to go to the doctor and to discover that “nothing is really wrong” and that “all of the tests are normal.”  Of the tests that might come back abnormal, the sibo breath test is the most popular test for IBS and is used in an attempt to diagnose small intestine bacterial overgrowth (sibo).  Unfortunately, this test is difficult to perform properly, which often leads to a misdiagnosis. It’s also difficult to treat, and many people who test positive do not respond to treatment, or only respond temporarily to the treatment. 

There is a multitude of causes that often go undiagnosed, and none of them are visible on a colonoscopy. Bacterial overgrowths that don’t show up on breath tests, Candida overgrowths that go undiagnosed or are missed, microscopic parasites that doctors fail to test for, and food sensitivities and intolerances that most doctors fail to appreciate can mystify you because your symptoms never seem to correlate with what you eat are all pieces to the IBS puzzle.  

And these are just a few of the causes of IBS in women. Hormones, enzyme deficiencies, HCL production, probiotic levels, and many other things can also cause IBS. There is no lack of causes, the challenge is in finding a doctor with expertise in sorting through these causes and helping you find the right one. 

How to Cure IBS in Women

Highly effective treatment requires not just ruling out other things but going beyond the normal standard of care for IBS. This is the only way to determine exactly what the cause is, and only then can an effective treatment plan be developed for your IBS. The good news is that IBS is very treatable, and you should expect excellent results. If you aren’t getting them, then you haven’t seen the right kind of doctor yet. 

Curing IBS in women requires careful detective work by an IBS specialist (not a gastroenterologist) and customized treatments for each patient. The kind of treatment that results in the long-term resolution of your symptoms will vary from person to person and will also depend on the cause of your IBS. There are a few medications and stock treatments for IBS, but they rarely work well or for very long, generally don’t cure IBS, and are not worth going into detail about here. The same goes for generic IBS diets, such as the low fodmap diet. 

The Life Impact of IBS in Women

Women suffering from IBS

Women are at higher risk of suffering from mental health issues related to their IBS, in particular depression and anxiety. This is not to imply that depression and anxiety are causing your IBS, which is a commonly held belief. Although stress and anxiety can contribute to IBS, in many cases it is the IBS that is leading to depression and anxiety.  

One of the common themes in IBS in women that don’t get discussed enough is that when you have poor digestion you also have poor absorption of nutrients. This leads to nutrient deficiencies that impact your entire health – everything from your energy to your mental health to the health of your hair, skin, and nails. It is no wonder that women with IBS often suffer from fatigue, menstrual disorders, anxiety, and depression, as well as dry skin, brittle nails, and hair loss. 

And of course, the digestive symptoms of IBS are by themselves enough to create a major impact on your quality of life, preventing you from social activities, work requirements, seeing friends, traveling, performing daily activities, or even just driving in the car for very long. This profound change to your lifestyle is not often discussed but is no less important than the immediate suffering of IBS in women. How is IBS affecting your life?