Up to one-third of the population suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which has a female predominance with a female-to-male ratio of 2–2.5 : 1 in those who seek health care. The female predominance is less apparent in the general population, suggesting that women with IBS are more likely to seek health care for their symptoms. IBS is characterized by recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort associated with a change in bowel habits. Adeyemo and colleagues  now report on a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature to evaluate gender differences in individual IBS symptoms and the role of menstrual cycle, menopausal status and hormone supplementation in these symptoms. Of the 599 studies identified by the defined search strategy, only 39 studies were included in the systematic review. In the general population, women were more likely to report abdominal pain and pain-related diagnostic symptoms of IBS but, in the IBS patient population, the prevalence of the pain-related symptoms did not differ between men and women. Women with IBS demonstrated a considerably higher risk for constipation-related symptoms, including abdominal distension, bloating, infrequent stools and hard stools, than men with IBS. Men with IBS were significantly more likely to report the diarrhea-related symptoms, of loose/watery stools and increased stool frequency, than women with IBS. Abstracting the data concerning the effect of menstrual cycles on IBS symptoms showed that 40–60% reported increased gastrointestinal symptoms at the time of menses compared with other phases. The symptoms for which most studies showed a significant effect on the menstrual cycle were (in descending order): loose stools, bloating, abdominal pain, stool frequency and other changes in bowel habit. In general, increased diarrhea was more often reported by women at the time of menses than increased constipation. Although the effects of the menstrual cycle on symptoms were similar in healthy women and IBS women, symptom severity was greater in women with IBS. The few studies which investigated possible differences between premenopausal and postmenopausal women did not demonstrate menopause-specific characteristics. Furthermore, one study addressed the effect of postmenopausal hormone therapy on the incidence of IBS . Women who used hormone replacement therapy were more likely to develop IBS than women who did not. Postmenopausal healthy women who were given estradiol or progesterone therapy alone for 7 days were more likely to have looser stools and greater ease of passage than those on placebo .
Department of Medicine T, Ichilov Hospital, Tel-Aviv, Israel
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