The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are similar in males and females, but some differences exist. For example, males are more likely than females to report diarrhea, whereas females are more likely to experience constipation.
However, IBS is more common in females than males, and many studies on IBS include few male participants. This may result in skewed data.
This article examines the symptoms of IBS in males. It also discusses the causes and symptoms of IBS in males and how doctors treat the condition.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
The symptoms of IBS are similar in people of all sexes. However, research suggests that males may be more likely to experience certain symptoms.
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
- IBS with mixed bowel patterns (IBS-M)
These subtypes describe the symptom a person has most often.
Males are more likely to report having IBS-D, while females are more likely to report IBS-C. Males tend to experience more frequent stools and diarrhea with IBS than females, while females experience more hard stools and bloating than males.
Males also report less pain, fatigue, and low quality of life due to IBS than females do.
However, females are more likely than males to report symptoms to a doctor. This may mean that the current data is inaccurate.
The symptoms of IBS can include:
- abdominal pain and cramping
- bloating or a feeling of fullness
IBS may also cause other symptoms, such as:
IBS can affect anyone — overall, it is a fairly common condition. However, females are around twice as likely as males to develop IBS.
IBS is more common among females from their late teens to around age 45 years. After this point, the new onset of IBS in females decreases, approaching the same as rates among males from age 70 onward. In contrast, the rate of IBS in males remains consistent between the ages of 20–70 years.
This may indicate that hormones play a role, as new IBS cases are more common among females during their reproductive years. Additionally, male hormones, known as androgens, may reduce the likelihood of developing chronic pain disorders.
Doctors are not sure of the exact cause of IBS. However, there are several theories.
Functional gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS may result from issues with how the brain and gut work together. Communication between the gut and brain is bidirectional, meaning that conditions that affect one can also affect the other.
Factors that may disrupt this connection or other aspects of digestive function,
- exposure to traumatic events
- certain mental health conditions, such as:
- infections in the digestive tract
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- imbalanced gut flora
There is no specific test to diagnose IBS. A healthcare professional will ask questions, take a medical history, and perform a physical examination. A doctor may also perform tests to rule out other causes, such as inflammatory bowel disease. These tests may include:
- endoscopy or colonoscopy
- blood tests for inflammation, celiac disease, and other conditions
- lactose intolerance test
- a breath test for SIBO
- stool tests
Treatment for IBS focuses on relieving symptoms to improve quality of life.
Diet for IBS
Dietary management can be an effective way to reduce IBS symptoms. However, some research indicates that males with IBS are less willing to change their dietary habits than females, which can significantly decrease quality of life.
People with IBS can have different responses to different diets. A dietitian can help a person find the best option for them.
Learn more about IBS diets and how to choose one.
A doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes to improve IBS symptoms, such as moderate physical activity, avoiding caffeine, and getting enough sleep.
If a person also has anxiety, depression, or a history of traumatic experiences, it
Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, gut-directed hypnotherapy, and relaxation training may improve IBS symptoms.
Doctors can recommend medications to help with diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Ongoing studies are investigating sex- and gender-specific treatments.
Medications for IBS-D may include:
- loperamide (Imodium A–D)
- rifaximin (Xifaxan)
- eluxadoline (Viberzi)
Medications for IBS-C may include:
- fiber supplements, such as psyllium (Metamucil)
- laxatives, such as magnesium hydroxide oral (milk of magnesia) or polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX)
- linaclotide (Linzess)
- plecanatide (Trulance)
Medications that may relieve IBS-related pain include:
- tricyclic antidepressants, such as imipramine (Tofranil), desipramine (Norpramin), or nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or paroxetine (Paxil)
Anyone with potential IBS symptoms should contact a doctor, who can help identify the cause, rule out more serious conditions, and recommend treatments that alleviate symptoms.
Speak with a doctor urgently if a person has:
- a lump in the stomach
- unexplained weight loss
- blood in the stool
- nighttime symptoms that prevent sleep
Symptoms of IBS in males and females are similar, but there are a few differences. Research suggests that males with IBS are more likely to experience frequent stools and diarrhea, while females are more likely to experience constipation. Males are also less likely to experience severe pain, bloating, and fatigue than females.
Treating IBS can significantly improve symptoms and quality of life. However, fewer males consult a doctor for IBS treatment than females. Additionally, while managing diet is an effective strategy for alleviating symptoms, some research suggests that males are less willing to change their diet than females.
Someone with IBS symptoms should consider speaking with a doctor to identify the cause and receive treatment.