Perimenopause and IBS: 2 Common Causes and Solutions

Last updated 01.16.2024 | by Sabrina Johnson | 10 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


IBS is one of the most common conditions affecting around 10-15% of individuals globally. As per studies, women are more prone to suffering from IBS than men. If I were to mention numbers, the prevalence of IBS in men is approximately 5-19% in men and 14-24% in women.

A doctor once told me that the main reason for the same was the fluctuating sex hormones. The estrogen and progesterone levels do not just go through a dramatic rise and fall when a woman is transitioning into menopause. There are other times as well when the rise and fall sequence is on, like during your periods and pregnancy.

I realized my digestive health wasn’t the same after my 40s. Thankfully, the problems weren’t too severe, nothing more than bouts of gassiness, especially after meals. However, my friend who had a history of IBS experienced an aggravation of her condition. Abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating had become her regular thing. Taking utmost care of her diet and following the doctor’s advice helped her recover.

Are you also troubled with IBS and bloating too often? Are you of the menopausal age? Then you may surely want to know if your IBS gets worse with menopause or if menopause may cause IBS. I suggest you read this article that elaborates on some fundamental aspects, like the relation between menopause and IBS, as well as the causes, symptoms, and management techniques. Let’s get started.

Can Menopause Cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

No, perimenopause or menopause will not lead to irritable bowel syndrome. However, when the digestive system gets affected due to the changing hormone levels, a woman can be affected with IBS. Moreover, in those with IBS before, the symptoms could intensify in the menopause transition phase. IBS can be of three kinds – IBS-C (constipation), IBS-D (diarrhea), and IBS-M (combination of constipation and diarrhea).

Common Causes for Digestive Issues and IBS-like Symptoms in Menopause

Your digestive system gets slightly unstable in perimenopause due to hormonal imbalances. The outcome is an array of digestive issues, with some similar to the ones you may experience when you have IBS. Let’s check the reasons for this.

1. Low Estrogen Levels

As a woman enters the perimenopause or menopause transition stage, the estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate and dip drastically by menopause. These hormones not only facilitate reproduction but help in the proper functioning of all our body’s organs, from brain to heart, skin to hair. So, a decline in hormone levels triggers an array of symptoms.

The sex hormones ensure the smooth functioning of the muscles, which help the food to travel through your digestive tract with ease. These hormones even help the body produce bile and stomach acid. This facilitates in breaking down the food, ensuring proper digestion.

A decrease in the levels of these hormones lessens acid and bile production. This could make women susceptible to digestive disorders like bloating, acid reflux, constipation, and diarrhea.

2. Increased Stress

Stress in menopause isn’t uncommon due to the changing hormone levels and several physical changes your body goes through. There’s also a relationship between stress and your digestive health.

Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases during moments of intense anxiety. Research showed that during stress, the cortisol hormone increases by about nine times. High cortisol levels lead to spasms in the colon. The effect of the same would be discomfort and cramping in the stomach.

This may result in IBS-like symptoms. If you already have a history of IBS, then menopause-related stress could exacerbate your symptoms. That’s why managing your stress in perimenopause and menopause is of utmost importance.

Symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Besides irregular and inconsistent bowel movements, IBS comes with several other symptoms. Let’s take a look at the following:

  • Pain and cramping in the area surrounding your stomach; most people experience lower abdominal pain
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • An urge to empty your bowels always
  • Inconsistent bowel movements, diarrhea following constipation, and vice versa
  • Mucous in your stool
  • Swollen and bloated stomach
  • Gassiness and flatulence
  • Feeling nauseous or full, even after having a meal of a standard size

If you are experiencing a combination of these symptoms quite often, do not delay seeking consultation from a healthcare provider.

Solutions to Deal with IBS and IBS-like Symptoms in Perimenopause

Solutions to Deal with IBS and IBS-like Symptoms in Perimenopause

Besides seeking medical assistance, there are other things to do from your end to manage and lessen the severity of your IBS symptoms. Let’s look at some of the valuable tips.

1. Eat Frequently But in Small Proportions

One of the symptoms many people experience in IBS is a feeling of fullness, even after eating a standard-sized meal. That’s why it’s advisable to eat smaller meals in frequent durations. For instance, if you eat three meals, try to break it into smaller fragments, say five.

This way, your stomach won’t have to work too hard to break down the food and digest it. Eating smaller meals will improve digestion and lessen gassiness. Skipping meals isn’t a good and healthy thing to do. Those with constipation should be even more concerned about this and never remain on an empty stomach as it may cause gastrointestinal issues.

Having smaller meals helped me control my gassiness to a great extent. I had a habit of gulping wholesome food before leaving for work. That would intensify my problem. Since then, I stopped having a lot of food in a go and divided my meals into smaller parts. Things got more sorted after that.

2. Know Your Trigger Foods

When you have a gastrointestinal disorder, it is essential to know what foods trigger your condition. It could be a spicy meal that makes your gassiness and bloating worse. Spicy foods triggered not just gassiness but also hot flashes for me.

It may even be that processed foods, which soothe your taste buds for the time being, give you a tough time later when your stomach is gearing up for digestion.

Some women may be over-sensitive to vegetables like cauliflower, onions, broccoli, beans, sprouts, and cabbage. Interestingly, some healthy fruits like apples, mangoes, and pears could trigger gas. The reason is their high fructose content, which could lead to gas and abdominal pain when the digestive system doesn’t absorb it well.

So, when you identify your triggers, you’ll understand which foods bring discomfort and can eliminate them from your diet until you feel better.

3. Remain Hydrated

When you have IBS or gas issues, drinking adequate amounts of water will help to improve your condition. People with IBS-C need sufficient water to improve their bowel movements. Those with IBS-D must drink water to avoid dehydration because of diarrhea. 
Around two liters of water daily, approximately eight glasses, would help manage the IBS symptoms. However, ensure not to drink too much water or fluids between meals, which could trigger gassiness.

4. Keep a Watch on What You Drink

Drinks like coffee, tea, carbonated beverages, etc., can trigger diarrhea and other IBS symptoms. So, if you have IBS and are in menopause, where the digestive system becomes more sensitive, avoiding such drinks is advisable. You should opt for healthier options like peppermint teas. I had an infinite liking for off, which I had to cut down to manage my hot flashes and stomach problems.

5. Take Extra Care About Your Diet

Watching your diet is another essential to-do. Many doctors recommend low FODMAP to individuals affected with IBS. Let’s see the meaning of FODMAP:

  • F – Fermentable
  • O – Oligosaccharides
  • D – Disaccharides
  • M – Monosaccharides
  • A – And
  • P – Polyols

In a low FODMAP diet, the aim is to avoid those foods which may trigger IBS symptoms. They are reintroduced after a specific span. A low FODMAP diet includes veggies like cucumber, lettuce, and carrots. The choice of fruits includes grapes, strawberries, and pineapples. Then there are proteins like tofu, chicken, eggs, and fish. Do not implement this diet without a doctor’s advice.

6. Maintain a Food Diary

A food diary will help to understand the foods that elevate your symptoms and the ones that provide relief. Once you have all of it written down, it will help you choose your diet well. This way, you can avoid foods that worsen your symptoms.

7. Exercise More

When you exercise well, your overall health gets boosted. Walking is one of the best exercises for all ailments, from heart disease to digestive disorders. Walking at least 20-30 minutes at least three to five times each week helps stimulate the intestinal tract, accounting for better digestion. Cardio exercises like running, jogging, swimming, etc., improve IBS and boost your overall health.

To exercise the abdominal muscles, crunches, situps, and pelvic floor would be preferable options. However, if you have pain or abdominal cramping, speak to the doctor before opting for these exercises.

8. Manage Your Stress

Stress takes a toll on your digestive health, as mentioned above. So, to manage your anxiety levels, you must try relaxation techniques and yoga. You should do what gives you pleasure. It could be anything from walking in the park to reading your favorite book. My stress levels were a little high at the onset of the menopause. Relaxation and breathing techniques help me immensely to relieve stress.

When you have a calm and relaxed mind, you’ll be able to take care of your digestive health and overall fitness.

FAQ’s

Can hormone therapy help with IBS?

There are mixed opinions about the effectiveness of IBS and hormone replacement therapy. A study in 2008 analyzed the medical reports of 65 women in the postmenopause phase. In each woman, a comparative study was made regarding the severity of the disease five years before and after menopause.
Twenty of them went for HRT. The results deduced that those who went for hormone replacement therapy were less susceptible to IBS by about 82% in postmenopause than those who didn’t go for the same. However, researchers even mention that the study needs to be conducted on a bigger trial group to get confirmation of the positive effects of HRT on lessening IBS symptoms. If you plan to go for HRT to manage IBS, it’s always advisable to consult the doctor. You can reap maximum benefits when you opt for the right kind of HRT in an appropriate dosage.

How is IBS treated?

IBS can be treated through medications. For instance, laxatives help to improve bowel functioning. There are antispasmodics for relieving spasms and pains. Anti-diarrheal medicines will help in controlling loose stools. It’s always advisable to contact the doctor and take the medicines upon his advice. Never self-treat.

Do IBS-like symptoms and digestive issues last after perimenopause and menopause?

The decline in estrogen and progesterone levels triggers digestive disorders and IBS-like symptoms in the menopause transition phase. Some women have reported their symptoms eased when they entered menopause. While for many, IBS worsened in the postmenopause phase. So, it depends on how effectively you take care of your health.

Conclusion

It is true that fluctuating hormones take a toll on your digestive health. But when you take good care of yourself, eat healthy, exercise sufficiently, and above all, remain stress-free, you can keep the digestive issues at bay.

If you have other symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, you can rest assured that the digestive distress is due to menopause. However, if it keeps coming and disturbs your daily life, you should consult the doctor immediately. Certain conditions like fibroids and even colon cancer can even produce IBS-like symptoms.

Author

  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.