13 Common IBS Symptoms in Females

You are here:

Table of Contents

Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS, is an intestinal disorder affecting 11% of the global population that can be experienced as a collection of symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. 

The first signs of IBS are abdominal pain along with changes in bowel habits.

Women are more likely to have IBS than men, especially if they also have a family history of IBS. According to a 2018 study, “Sex hormones and gender differences may play important roles in the pathophysiology of IBS.” 

How IBS Is Different for Women

How do women experience IBS differently than men? While many symptoms found in female IBS sufferers overlap with the symptoms found in males, some are unique to women, especially around the time of menstruation. 

What does IBS feel like for women? IBS for a woman can feel like chronic abdominal pain, cramping, and worsened PMS symptoms due to abnormalities in the digestive tract. Women with IBS are also more likely to suffer from other gynecological disorders.

What is the most common symptom in a woman with IBS? The most common symptom in a woman with IBS is abdominal pain, often associated with constipation. The abdominal pain may be caused by colon spasms or other causal factors.

There are 13 common symptoms of IBS in females to look out for when diagnosing and considering treatment options.

Stop Googling and finally get to the root of your gut issues. Live in Colorado or the greater Denver area? Schedule a free consultation with PrimeHealth.

13 Common IBS Symptoms in Females

1. Diarrhea

Some women experience even more frequent loose stools during their menstruation than usual.

2. Constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C)

More women present with IBS-C due to various factors including anxiety, hormone production, as well as bowel function and motility. 

3. Bloating/Gas

Gas and bloating related to IBS can become more pronounced during certain stages of menstruation in women. 

4. Pelvic Pain

Women with IBS frequently report chronic pelvic pain alongside other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. In one study, 40% of female participants with pelvic pain met the criteria for IBS.

5. Worse PMS Symptoms

Both IBS and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, such as bloating, hormonal acne, and digestive upset, may worsen during menstruation. Researchers point to hormonal changes and the effects of progesterone during a woman’s cycle as possible reasons why PMS symptoms worsen.

6. Severe Menstrual Symptoms

Some studies show that women with IBS may suffer two-fold during menstruation. Increased pain sensitivity during menstruation can exacerbate cramping from both IBS and menstruation. Irregular periods and contraceptives do not seem to affect IBS symptoms.

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed on Health Topics like this!
Get primehealth updates right to your inbox

7. Incontinence

Women with IBS are more likely to experience urinary incontinence and overactive bladder (OAB).

8. Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP)

Straining during bowel movements may cause a weakening of the muscles and tissues supporting the pelvic organs. Over time, this means those organs — the uterus, bladder, or rectum — may drop or fall out of place. 

Women are more at risk for POP, as it can also happen following difficult pregnancies and labor or due to lower estrogen levels after menopause. 

9. Pain During Intercourse

Many women with IBS report pain during sexual intercourse. A decreased sex drive and low overall sexual satisfaction are also more common in women, likely due to the discomfort involved with many of the hallmark IBS symptoms.

10. Exhaustion/Fatigue

Women suffering from consistent sleep deprivation put themselves at risk for several illnesses and chronic conditions, cognitive impairment, and mood instability. A lack of restorative sleep can exacerbate other IBS symptoms and cause quality of life concerns. 

11. Mood Problems

Women experience a variety of mental health concerns associated with IBS symptoms, including increased rates of depression and anxiety. The stress involved with managing IBS symptoms, like the constant planning for bathroom access, can be anxiety-producing and further exacerbates IBS symptoms.

12. Increased Endometriosis Risk

Endometriosis is a painful condition causing tissue normally found inside the uterus, or endometrium, to grow outside the uterus. Women diagnosed with IBS are at a higher risk of developing endometriosis. Women who receive a hysterectomy to alleviate endometriosis pain are at a higher risk of developing IBS, too.

13. Loss of Appetite

Women suffering from IBS symptoms can experience a loss of appetite leading to weight loss from taking in fewer calories than they should. 

Diagnosing IBS

Diagnosing IBS can be challenging, particularly in women on their menstrual cycle. Cramping associated with menstruation may be confused with abdominal cramping and vice versa.

In addition, many women find it’s difficult to have their concerns truly considered in a primary care sitting. It’s common for women to be targets of intentional or unintentional medical gaslighting — for example, for extreme PMS symptoms to be blamed on anxiety rather than a condition like IBS.

Is there a blood test to diagnose IBS? There is no blood test to diagnose IBS. A healthcare provider will use the Rome criteria for a proper IBS diagnosis in both men and women. 

According to the Rome criteria, abdominal pain for 6 months or more presenting with 2 out of 3 of the following criteria points to a positive IBS diagnosis:

  • Pain or relief related to bowel movements
  • Change in frequency of bowel movements
  • Change in consistency of bowel movements

Common female-specific conditions may sometimes be mistaken for IBS:

  • PMS: Shared symptoms of PMS and IBS include mood changes, bloating, cramps, and exhaustion. If symptoms only occur around the time of menstruation, it may be PMS-related.
  • Endometriosis: Shared symptoms of endometriosis and IBS include pelvic pain, constipation, diarrhea, severe menstruation, and pain during intercourse. Endometriosis can also present with nausea and back pain.
  • Fibroids: Fibroids in the uterine lining share symptoms of IBS such as constipation, bloating, pelvic pain, severe periods, and exhaustion. Fatigue due to fibroids is likely related to anemia. 

What is the difference between IBS and IBD? Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. IBD can present as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, conditions sometimes mistaken for IBS. Unlike IBS, a physician may recommend a colonoscopy for IBD as both a diagnostic tool and to see the extent of inflammation in the bowel.

Related reading: Colon Cleansing: Types, Benefits, Dangers & FAQs

Risk Factors for IBS in Women

Are there IBS risk factors specific to women? Many IBS risk factors are the same for men and women, such as family history of IBS, intestinal infections, and fibromyalgia. However, women almost always present symptoms before the age of 50 and more frequently suffer sexual abuse or fibromyalgia than men.

Risk factors for IBS in women include:

  • Age: IBS symptoms in women typically present before 50, during a woman’s menstruation years. It is very rare for a woman to report her first IBS flare-up after 50.
  • Family history: Women with a family history of IBS are at higher risk for developing the condition. Researchers suggest environmental factors play an essential part even in these cases where genetics may be involved.
  • A history of abuse: IBS and other functional disorders are reported at a much higher rate in women with a history of sexual abuse. This may be linked to other IBS triggers associated with abuse, such as sleep disruption and mental health disorders.
  • Fibromyalgia: IBS often coexists with functional disorders like fibromyalgia. Mental health conditions associated with chronic pain also worsen IBS symptoms. Some providers suggest antidepressants, but it’s important to get to the root of your symptoms, too.
  • Intestinal infections: Some patients experience their first IBS flare-up following a bout of stomach illness or infection. That can include gastroenteritis, or stomach flu. This is referred to as post-infectious IBS.  

IBS Types

If you suspect you have IBS, your physician can determine the type of IBS you have.

There are 4 main types of IBS:

  • Diarrhea-predominant (IBS-D)
  • Constipation-predominant (IBS-C)
  • Mixed, or mixed pattern (IBS-M)
  • Unspecified (IBS-U)

Common IBS Triggers

Triggers for IBS flare ups include stress, food, caffeine, carbonated beverages, and infectious diarrhea. Syndromes such as leaky gut syndrome and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can also trigger IBS.

  • Food allergens (often lactose/dairy or gluten)
  • SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
  • Antibiotic use or overuse
  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Candida/yeast overgrowth
  • Parasites
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Low vagal tone (low vagus nerve activity, which may result in fainting)
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Histamine intolerance
  • Poor hydration
  • Fructose malabsorption (most common for people who eat many foods continuing high fructose corn syrup)
  • Food poisoning

How to Treat IBS

There are many possible root causes of IBS, from genetics to SIBO to mental health conditions. Treating the condition effectively means you’ll need to test for and understand your triggers. 

While there are a variety of alternative treatments out there like hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, those treatments come with varying levels of research-backed success.

What are some ways to help relieve IBS? The best ways to relieve IBS are to lower stress levels, avoid short-chain carbohydrates (sugars), and cut out caffeinated and carbonated beverages. For immediate abdominal pain relief, apply a gentle heating pad to the location of abdominal discomfort. Sip herbal teas known to soothe the stomach, such as peppermint and chamomile.

Over-the-counter laxatives may help on rare occasion, but using these or medications like Pepto-Bismol may increase the risk of side effects like vertigo, lethargy, or vomiting.

At PrimeHealth, we know you can cure IBS if you identify the root cause of your symptoms. To do this, we lead patients through a 5-step process:

  1. Discuss your history and test for IBS triggers. A patient’s triggers can range from chronic stress or trauma to gut infections like parasites or a condition called small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Completing stool and breath tests can help us to diagnose root causes like these.
  2. Inquire about medications. Some medications help treat IBS. At PrimeHealth, we try to keep medications to a minimum to focus on functional treatments but recognize that some conditions must be treated with antibiotics. The most commonly prescribed medications include PEG, linaclotide, and lubiprostone for IBS-C and antispasmodics and diphenoxylate for IBS-D.
  3. Start a low-FODMAP diet or other IBS diet. Dietary changes, like eliminating gluten and dairy, may signal an underlying digestive system condition. A low-FODMAP diet may also help reduce or reverse IBS symptoms.
  4. Make lifestyle changes. Regular exercise, resting your bowel using intermittent fasting, and stress management may help alleviate IBS symptoms. Meditation, yoga, and spending time outside are all good ways to manage chronic stress.
  5. Take gut-healing supplements. Natural remedies that may help with IBS include probiotics, herbs, fiber supplements, and digestive enzymes. Your physician can help you find supplements that treat your unique case after a diagnosis of IBS. Keep in mind that not all IBS supplements are suitable for every patient.

You can reverse IBS by treating it at the root cause. At PrimeHealth, we have patients who suffered from digestive issues for 10 years or more that are now seeing massive improvements with the treatments we do. 

Schedule a consultation today!

Sign up for our email newsletter and get cutting-edge science and health tips sent straight to your inbox.

Follow us on Instagram to keep up with our cutting edge work in functional medicine.


  1. Kim, Y. S., & Kim, N. (2018). Sex-gender differences in irritable bowel syndrome. Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility, 24(4), 544.
  2. Choung, R. S., Herrick, L. M., Locke, G. R., 3rd, Zinsmeister, A. R., & Talley, N. J. (2010). Irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pelvic pain: a population-based study. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 44(10), 696–701.
  3. Bharadwaj, S., Barber, M. D., Graff, L. A., & Shen, B. (2015). Symptomatology of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease during the menstrual cycle. Gastroenterology report, 3(3), 185–193.
  4. Matsumoto, S., Hashizume, K., Wada, N., Hori, J., Tamaki, G., Kita, M., Iwata, T., & Kakizaki, H. (2013). Relationship between overactive bladder and irritable bowel syndrome: a large-scale internet survey in Japan using the overactive bladder symptom score and Rome III criteria. BJU international, 111(4), 647–652.
  5. Tu, Q., Heitkemper, M. M., Jarrett, M. E., & Buchanan, D. T. (2017). Sleep disturbances in irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Neurogastroenterology and motility : the official journal of the European Gastrointestinal Motility Society, 29(3), 10.1111/nmo.12946.
  6. Khoshbaten, M., Melli, M. S., Fattahi, M. J., Sharifi, N., Mostafavi, S. A., & Pourhoseingholi, M. A. (2011). Irritable bowel syndrome in women undergoing hysterectomy and tubular ligation. Gastroenterology and hepatology from bed to bench, 4(3), 138–141.
  7. Saito, Y. A., Petersen, G. M., Locke, G. R., 3rd, & Talley, N. J. (2005). The genetics of irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology : the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, 3(11), 1057–1065.
  8. Lee, H. F., Liu, P. Y., Wang, Y. P., Tsai, C. F., Chang, F. Y., & Lu, C. L. (2018). Sexual Abuse Is Associated With an Abnormal Psychological Profile and Sleep Difficulty in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Taiwan. Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility, 24(1), 79–86.
  9. Yang, T. Y., Chen, C. S., Lin, C. L., Lin, W. M., Kuo, C. N., & Kao, C. H. (2017). Risk for irritable bowel syndrome in fibromyalgia patients: a national database study. Medicine, 96(14).
  10. Lee, Y. Y., Annamalai, C., & Rao, S. S. (2017). Post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome. Current gastroenterology reports, 19, 1-10.
  11. Eijsbouts, C., Zheng, T., Kennedy, N. A., Bonfiglio, F., Anderson, C. A., Moutsianas, L., … & Parkes, M. (2021). Genome-wide analysis of 53,400 people with irritable bowel syndrome highlights shared genetic pathways with mood and anxiety disorders. Nature genetics, 53(11), 1543-1552.
  12. Banerjee, A., Sarkhel, S., Sarkar, R., & Dhali, G. K. (2017). Anxiety and Depression in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 39(6), 741–745. 
  13. Spanier, J. A., Howden, C. W., & Jones, M. P. (2003). A systematic review of alternative therapies in the irritable bowel syndrome. Archives of Internal Medicine, 163(3), 265-274.
PrimeHealth Newsletter
Get tips & advice right to your inbox, plus stay up to date on PrimeHealth group visits and services.

Share this Post