Irritable bowel syndrome: does it relate to menopause?

We know that menopause is not an easy process. Aside from its uncomfortable symptoms, it sometimes can make previous health conditions become more serious. Moreover, it can prompt new ones. Irritable bowel syndrome is one of these. We are here to help you, so let’s take a closer look at this illness and what you can do to face it with the best attitude possible.

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

It is a frequent disorder of the gastrointestinal system affecting specifically the large intestine, or colon. It should be noted that it is a chronic illness that is very difficult to diagnose and treat. As a result, we can only ease its symptoms (Lenhart, 2020). Your emotional state, diet, medication and hormones can worsen symptoms. Sometimes, abnormal muscular contractions (either accelerated or diminished) can trigger it. Likewise, bacterial or virus infections can have the same effect (Moleski, 2020).

Risk factors associated with irritable bowel syndrome

Even though there is no known specific cause for IBS, it tends to be more common among people with the following traits (Moleski, 2020):

  • Age below 50-years-old.
  • A family history of IBS.
  • Anxiety, depression, or another mental illness.
  • A history of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Consumption of certain foods, like wheat, dairy, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, and carbonated drinks.
  • Food intolerances and allergies.
  • Stress.

Why does the risk of irritable bowel syndrome rise during menopause?

During perimenopause, a drop in sexual hormones (progesterone and oestrogen) occurs. These regulate the menstrual cycles, as well as supporting nervous system and brain functions (Lenhart, 2020). Although it is not clear how, there is evidence that low levels of oestrogen bring about changes in bowel movements. This can increase IBS symptoms. Moreover, they raise the body’s sensitivity to pain as well as bowel distension (Lenhart, 2020). Irritable bowel syndrome: does it relate to menopause?

Signs and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

They vary from person to person and usually linger in time. However, they can change sporadically, and symptoms can appear suddenly. The most common symptoms are (Mayo Clinic, 2021):

  • Stomach ache, colic, a feeling of fullness, distension, cramps, and swelling – all related to bowel movement.
  • Changes in stool appearance (liquid, lumpy, hard).
  • Alterations of bowel movement frequency (diarrhea, constipation).

Irritable bowel syndrome diagnosis

Your doctor will usually run tests to rule out other colon conditions, such as chronic constipation, cancer, colitis, or infections. These include blood work, colonoscopies, looking for blood in stool, ultrasounds, and x rays (Moleski, 2020). If no other cause can be found, an IBS diagnosis is in place. It should be classified according to symptoms and characteristics of your bowel movement rhythm during the last three months (Moleski, 2020).

Complications of irritable bowel syndrome

The main complications that can come from IBS include (Mayo Clinic, 2021; MedlinePlus, 2021):

  • Hemorroids.
  • Poor quality of life.
  • A drop in work performance.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Problems traveling or attending social events.

Therapies to ease symptoms

Today, there is medication that can ease symptoms for some people. However, not all medication is effective in every single case. Before opting for any treatment (even over-the-counter products), you need to see a doctor (MedlinePlus, 2021). Changes in lifestyle can lead to an ease in symptoms (MedlinePlus, 2021; NIDDK, 2017). Some leading examples include:

  • Exercising regularly.
  • Improving sleeping habits.
  • Eating healthy. Avoiding caffeine, tea, and carbonated drinks. Also eating small portions of food.
  • In some cases, increasing fibre intake can help ease constipation. However, it can also worsen abdominal distension.
  • Behavioral cognitive therapy focusing on changing thought and behavior patterns.
  • Bowel-directed hypnotherapy.
  • Relaxation techniques to help ease muscle tension and reduce stress.

Overall, irritable bowel syndrome can become incapacitating. Nevertheless, an untimely diagnosis remains the biggest obstacle. Knowing this condition gives you the opportunity to make the changes necessary to aid in controlling it, especially during menopause. So, if you are experiencing any symptoms, do not hesitate to see your physician. References Alvarado, J.; Otero, W.; Jaramillo-Santos, M. A.; Roa B., P. A.; Puentes L., G. A.; Jiménez F., A. M.; Grillo A., C. F.; Pardo, R.; y Sabbagh, L. (2015). Guía de práctica clínica para el diagnóstico y tratamiento del síndrome de intestino irritable en población adulta. Asociaciones Colombianas de Gastroenterología Endoscopia digestiva, Coloproctología y Hepatología Lenhart, A.; Naliboff, B.; Shih, W.; Gupta, A.; Tillisch, K.; Liu, C.; Mayer, E. A.; & Chang, L. (2020). Postmenopausal women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have more severe symptoms than premenopausal women with IBS. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 32(10). Mayo Clinic. (2021). Síndrome de intestino irritable. MedlinePlus (2021). Síndrome del intestino irritable Moleski, S. (2020). Síndrome del intestino irritable (IBS). Manual MSD Versión Para Profesionales. NIDDK. (2017). Tratamiento para el síndrome de intestino irritable