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Menopause and IBS: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re a woman experiencing perimenopause or menopause alongside IBS, you might be familiar with a range of unpredictable symptoms. These include abdominal pain, bloating, changes in bowel habits, and mood swings. 

These symptoms can range in severity and greatly affect everyday life.

The aim of this article is to delve into the link between menopause and IBS and provide you with practical, proven methods to help you manage digestive symptoms.

So let’s jump right in with the question we all want to know.

Does Menopause Cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Menopause and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are complex conditions. Menopause doesn’t directly cause IBS, and IBS isn’t a symptom of menopause.

However, menopause can make IBS symptoms more intense for some women.

Does Menopause Affect IBS?

Indeed, research shows that fluctuating hormones during menopause can worsen IBS symptoms for some women

While the exact connection between menopause and IBS is still unknown, various theories exist regarding why menopause can trigger or intensify IBS symptoms.

Understanding Theories and How to Manage IBS:

Continue reading as we explain these theories and talk more about ways to manage symptoms that could work for you.

What is Menopause?

Understanding Menopause

Let’s start with the basics, menopause is a natural process that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is officially diagnosed after a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period. This typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age being 51.

Hormonal changes

During menopause, the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone, leading to a variety of physical and emotional changes. These changes can include hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, and changes in libido, weight gain to name a few.

What is IBS?

Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a widespread digestive problem. It’s known as functional gastrointestinal disorder which is a type of disorder that impacts the large intestine and involves various digestive symptoms such as

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Wind
  • Reflux
  • Constipation and Diarrhoea
  • Urgency
  • Nausea
  • Gurgling

IBS is a chronic condition, meaning it is ongoing and can last for years or even a lifetime and symptom severity can vary from person to person.

It’s important to remember that other conditions can cause these symptoms too, so you should see a healthcare professional for a correct diagnosis if your bowel habits change.

Potential Causes of IBS

The exact cause of IBS isn’t known, but it’s thought to involve factors like unusual muscle movements in the intestines, inflammation, and changes in the gut bacteria.

Investigating How Menopause and IBS May Be Connected

Theory 1: Gut Microbiome Changes

One idea is that the drop in oestrogen levels during menopause might change the mix of gut bacteria. This imbalance in the digestive tract’s microorganisms could cause digestive problems.

Theory 2: Muscular Changes in the Digestive Tract

Another theory suggests that lower oestrogen levels might affect the digestive tract’s muscles, leading to unusual contractions that could cause IBS symptoms.

Theory 3: Lifestyle and Dietary Changes

Menopause often leads to changes in lifestyle and diet, including changes in appetite, weight fluctuations, and less physical activity. These changes can affect digestion and worsen IBS symptoms.

Continued Research and Understanding

Although these theories offer insight into how menopause and IBS might be connected, more research is needed to fully understand the complex relationship between these two health issues.

Now, let’s discuss practical diet and lifestyle strategies that may help manage symptoms.

Effective Ways to Manage IBS During Menopause: Focusing on Gut Health

Although there’s no complete cure for IBS, using different strategies can ease symptoms and improve gut health during menopause. 

Let’s look at dietary and lifestyle adjustments.

Dietary and Lifestyle Adjustments

  • Adjusting your diet and lifestyle is key to controlling IBS symptoms. Here are some suggestions:
  • Eat smaller, frequent meals to reduce digestive discomfort.
  • Avoid foods that trigger your IBS, like alcohol, lactose, caffeine, and spicy foods.
  • Slowly increase fibre in your diet to help with regular bowel movements if you are struggling with constipation.
  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
  • Exercise regularly to improve overall health and digestion.
  • Use stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation or yoga, to lower stress levels which can affect IBS.
  • By making these diet and lifestyle changes, you can manage IBS symptoms more effectively.

After implementing the initial diet and lifestyle modifications, menopausal women may find further benefits in exploring the Low FODMAP Diet as a supplementary strategy for additional relief from gastrointestinal discomfort.

Navigating Menopause and IBS: Exploring the Low FODMAP Diet

The Low FODMAP Diet is a promising way to reduce digestive discomfort and find out which foods cause problems if first line advice has not worked and you are struggling with IBS and symptoms of bloating and diarrhoea. 

What is the Low FODMAP Diet?

FODMAPs, which stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, are types of carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. 

These indigestible sugars can ferment in the gut, leading to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain, particularly in individuals with IBS.

How Does the Low FODMAP Diet Work?

The Low FODMAP Diet involves reducing or eliminating high-FODMAP foods from the diet for a period of time, typically under the guidance of a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian. 

By reducing the intake of these fermentable carbohydrates, individuals may experience a reduction in IBS symptoms, such as bloating and discomfort.

Linking the Low FODMAP Diet with Menopause

During menopause, hormone changes can make IBS symptoms worse, making it harder to manage them. 

Trying the Low FODMAP Diet may help with bloating and diarrhoea for some women. However, it’s important to start any diet changes, like the Low FODMAP Diet, carefully and with advice from a healthcare provider or dietitian. 

Everyone’s experience with menopause and IBS is different, so advice should be customised to fit individual needs and likes. 

Let’s now talk about lifestyle and medication strategies.

Exploring Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Medications for IBS Management

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is used to replenish diminished levels of oestrogen and progesterone during menopause. It has shown effectiveness in reducing IBS symptoms in some women, but for others, it may worsen their symptoms.

This shows the need for more studies to understand how menopause affects each person differently, especially regarding stomach issues.

Medications for Symptom Management

There are many medicines available without a prescription and with a prescription that can help with IBS symptoms:

  • Antispasmodics: These help with stomach pain and cramps.
  • Laxatives: If you’re constipated, laxatives can help you go to the toilet.
  • Anti-diarrheal medicines: These help stop diarrhoea.

Always talk to a doctor or pharmacist before starting any new medicine to make sure it’s safe and right for you.

Now let’s look at natural ways to manage irritable bowel syndrome with lifestyle changes.

Natural Ways to Manage IBS Through Lifestyle Changes

Other than diet and medication, various natural strategies can help manage IBS. These focus on boosting overall health and reducing stress, which can trigger IBS symptoms. Here are some natural methods for IBS relief:

Breathing Exercises:

Doing deep breathing exercises can soothe your nerves and lower stress, helping ease IBS symptoms. Adding easy breathing exercises to your day, like belly breathing or guided breathwork, can help you relax and improve your digestion.

Give breathing exercises a try as part of your IBS management plan – they can be a simple yet powerful way to reduce stress and ease your symptoms. Grab your breathing exercise below.

    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):

    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that helps people change unhelpful or negative ways of thinking and acting. It can help those with IBS by dealing with the stress and worry that can make stomach issues worse. Learning CBT skills from a therapist can make it easier to handle IBS and improve how you feel overall.

    Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy:

    Gut-directed hypnotherapy is a specific type of hypnosis aimed at easing IBS symptoms by working on the connection between the gut and brain. Studies show it can help manage IBS symptoms linked to stress. 

    Yoga:

    Yoga involves poses, breath work, and meditation to calm and balance both body and mind. Doing yoga often can lower stress, help digestion, and ease IBS symptoms. 

    Some yoga moves, like twists and soft stretches, are great for the gut, helping with digestion and easing stomach issues.

    Mindfulness Meditation:

    Mindfulness meditation is about paying attention to the present moment, including thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, without judgement. 

    Regular practice can help people handle stress better and manage IBS symptoms more effectively. Techniques like body scans and mindful eating can also lead to a better understanding of one’s body and healthier decisions that benefit digestion.

    Empowering Women through Understanding and Action

    Understanding menopause and IBS and their link can help women feel more in control. By learning about these issues, women can better manage their symptoms and improve their digestive health.

    Finding Support with The IBS Network Charity

    Helpful Apps and Tools 

    Bowelle is an easy-to-use app for people with IBS to track their symptoms, food, mood, and stress. This helps find what triggers their IBS, leading to better lifestyle choices and discussions with doctors. 

    Key Takeaways: Understanding IBS and Menopause

    Dealing with IBS and menopause together can be tough but also a chance to take control through learning and self-care. We’ve found that menopause can make IBS worse, highlighting the importance of understanding and managing these symptoms. Here are the main points:

    Knowledge is Key: Knowing how menopause affects IBS helps in creating effective management plans.

    Customised Care is Vital: Tailoring your diet and lifestyle, possibly with a Low FODMAP diet, and using stress reduction techniques is crucial. Healthcare professionals can help customise this approach.

    Support is Important: Having a network of healthcare providers, joining support groups, or using apps like Bowelle is crucial for confidence in handling these conditions.

    A Combined Approach Works Best: Using a mix of dietary changes, lifestyle adjustments, and medical advice is the most effective way to manage IBS during menopause.

    Remember, you’re not alone. With the right support and strategies, managing IBS in menopause can lead to a healthier, more comfortable life.

    Health Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your medical team or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or dietary changes. The views expressed on this site are based on the best knowledge of the dietitian, and readers are advised to consider their personal health needs before implementing any nutrition strategy.

    Nichola Williams, MNutr, RD

    Nichola is a dedicated specialist in menopause and gut health. As a registered dietitian, she brings both professional expertise and a personal understanding of menopause, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and Histamine Intolerance (HIT) to her practice. Beyond her career, Nichola is a culinary enthusiast with a passion for open water swimming. She loves combining her knowledge with compassion to empower her clients on their journey to improved gut health.

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