IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, affects the intestine and stomach, generating symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, and gas. Those with IBS can have it lifelong as a chronic condition. The severity of irritable bowel syndrome depends on how well you manage your lifestyle and diet.
Talking about the perimenopause and menopause stages, like most other physical changes you encounter, alterations in your digestion process could be one of them.
You could experience abdominal problems and changes in your bowel movements during this time, which could sometimes replicate the symptoms you have during an episode of IBS.
So, does menopause cause IBS? If yes, what are the reasons for the same, and how to manage irritable bowel syndrome during and after menopause? Read on to know more.
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 (mixed, combination of constipation and diarrhea).
Common Causes for Digestive Issues and IBS-like Symptoms in Menopause
Your digestive system gets a little 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 the same.
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)
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
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. When you eat smaller meals, it 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.
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.
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.
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. In this way, you can stay away from 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. When you walk at least 20-30 minutes at least three to five times each week, it helps stimulate the intestinal tract, accounting for better digestion.
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.
When you have a calm and relaxed mind, you’ll be able to take care of not only your digestive health but your overall fitness.
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.
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.
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.
It is true that the play of hormones takes 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.