Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can affect members of the same family, but this may be due to shared lifestyle and other risk factors. Scientific research has not found a genetic reason for IBS to run in families.
While inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has genetic ties, research cannot find a strong genetic cause of IBS. Studies indicate that lifestyle factors play a larger role in whether a person will develop the condition.
Some factors that may contribute to IBS development include experiencing intestinal infections, mental health conditions, and early life stresses. Although there is no way to avoid IBS, some prevention strategies
Keep reading to learn more about genetic links in IBS, as well as risk factors, means of prevention, and when to contact a doctor.
In some cases, the genetic risk stems from a rare single-gene mutation. However, in most cases, the risk is due to polygenes.
Researchers have identified very few IBS-risk genes. One exception is an inflammation-promoting gene called TNFSF15.
A 2020 review explains that in addition to genetics, there is an epigenetic aspect to the risk of developing IBS.
While genetics denotes the DNA sequence on a chromosome, epigenetics refers to how environmental and behavioral factors affect genes. Epigenetic factors affect the expression of a gene, which means they can turn a gene on or off.
For example, early childhood stress is an environmental factor that can cause epigenetic changes.
Doctors classify IBS as a functional gastrointestinal disorder. This means its symptoms are not due to structural or biochemical abnormalities.
Instead, there is an issue with how the brain and gut work together.
Despite this, certain factors occur more frequently in people with IBS and
- bacterial infections in the intestinal tract
- food intolerances that manifest in digestive symptoms
- mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression
- bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine involving changes in the types of bacteria or an increase in the number of bacteria that live in the gut
- early life traumas such as sexual or physical abuse
However, the results indicated that spouses of people with IBS also have a higher likelihood of having the condition, suggesting that nongenetic factors may play a role as well.
Researchers classify relatives as follows:
- First degree: Parents, children, and full brothers and sisters.
- Second degree: Uncles, aunts, grandparents, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and half brothers and sisters.
- Third degree: First cousins, great-uncles and great-aunts, great-grandparents, and great-grandchildren.
A 2010 study provides some quantification about the strength of family influence. It indicates that people who have relatives with IBS may be
The authors noted that while the family association is clear, researchers do not know how much stems from genetics and how much is due to shared household environmental exposure.
There is a range of risk factors for IBS, including infectious enteritis. This infection causes inflammation in the intestines and usually stems from consuming food or beverages contaminated with a disease-causing microorganism.
A 2017 review investigating IBS risk factors using data from 45 studies involving 21,421 individuals suggests that those with infectious enteritis may be 4 times more likely to develop IBS than those without the condition.
It also found that more than 10% of people with infectious enteritis later developed IBS.
According to the review, other risk factors for IBS include:
Because of the earlier findings, the study authors specifically sought greater clarity about the value of polyphenols for IBS. After reviewing scientific data, they concluded that polyphenols might help prevent or reduce IBS symptoms.
Sources of polyphenols include:
A person should contact a doctor if they have symptoms of IBS or a persistent change in bowel habits.
These symptoms include:
More serious symptoms involve:
Although IBS can run in families, no research has found a significant genetic link. Lifestyle factors are more likely to contribute to the condition.
Risk factors include having had intestinal enteritis, especially if a person took antibiotics for the condition. People with symptoms of IBS should contact a doctor.