For most women, menopause will have an effect on IBS symptoms. As part of the process of menopause, there is a decrease in the levels of the sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. There is a well-established relationship between these sex hormones and digestive symptoms, most likely due to the fact that receptor cells for these hormones are located throughout the digestive tract. Thus, the changing hormonal levels of menopause do have an effect on IBS, but what that effect is is not completely clear. The evidence to date currently provides only conflicting and incomplete evidence about the change in IBS symptoms during and after menopause.
For the most part, population surveys indicate that women experience a decrease in IBS symptoms following menopause. The number of women with IBS appears to decrease after the age of 45 and by the age of 65 IBS is experienced at equal rates in men and women.
However, many women report an increase in IBS symptoms following menopause. This may be especially likely around the time of early menopause (perimenopause). It has been theorized that this increase in symptoms at the time of early menopause is due to the lessening of the levels of sex hormones that occurs at this time, in much the same way that women experience an increase in IBS symptoms in the days surrounding the onset of menstruation.
Heitkemper, M. & Chang L. "Heitkemper, M. & Chang L. "Do fluctuations in ovarian hormones affect gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome?" Gender Medicine 2009 6:(S2) 152-167.
Palsson, O. & Whitehead, W. "Hormones and IBS" The UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. Accessed February 5, 2010
Palsson, O., Whitehead, W., Turner, M., van Tilburg, M. & Kanazawa, M. "Results of a National Survey on the Effects of Changes in Female Sex Hormones on Irritable Bowel Syndrome" The UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. Accessed February 5, 2010.
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