For reasons that researchers do not understand, the menstrual cycle seems to affect the severity of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In a recent study, UK investigators confirmed that symptoms of IBS get worse when women are having their period.
Sex hormones such as estrogen may be involved in IBS. For instance, abdominal bloating tends to be less common in premenopausal women than in postmenopausal women. And bloating is less frequent in women taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause.
To gauge the effect of the menstrual cycle on IBS, the researchers measured rectal sensitivity in 29 women with the condition. During the study, the women, who were aged 21 to 44, kept track of their IBS symptoms for a complete menstrual cycle. Women with IBS tended to experience worse abdominal pain and bloating when they were having their period. The women also tended to have more frequent bowel movements during menstruation. Women with IBS reported having a lower overall sense of well being during their period, although they were not more depressed or anxious.
IBS, which affects women more often than men, is characterized by abdominal pain, constipation, bloating and diarrhea. Stress, anxiety and depression can exacerbate IBS episodes. Increasing physical activity and adjusting the diet may relieve symptoms.
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