PCOS is an endocrine disorder. It occurs when a woman’s ovaries make abnormal levels of certain hormones. In the United States,
On the other hand, IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder. It affects the way your intestines work, causing symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea. It affects 10 to 15 percent of people in the United States and is more common in people who are assigned female at birth.
If you have PCOS, you may also experience IBS. The two conditions may be linked in several ways. Read on to learn about the potential connection, plus diagnosis and treatment for both conditions.
PCOS is often associated with IBS. Here are potential reasons behind the link, according to science:
PCOS is marked by excess levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which are involved in ovulation. As a result, ovulation does not occur, leading to irregular menstrual periods.
High levels of these hormones can also cause IBS. According to a
Being a woman
Compared with people who are assigned male at birth, women are
Although it’s unclear why the condition is more common in women, it’s thought to be related to:
- Sex hormones. Estrogen and progesterone, two female sex hormones, may cause constipation by slowing down intestinal muscle contractions. These hormones fluctuate during menstruation, which can cause diarrhea.
- Higher pain perception. Female sex hormones also increase the perception of pain. Women are more likely to feel stomach cramps and discomfort due to bowel issues.
- Higher stress levels. Female sex hormones also increase your susceptibility to stress, which can lead to IBS symptoms. Having PCOS can increase stress levels.
PCOS and IBS may be linked via inflammation.
Inflammation plays a role in the development of IBS, according to a
Symptoms of PCOS and IBS can vary greatly.
Common PCOS symptoms include:
- irregular periods
- oily skin
- thinning hair
- excess face and body hair
- ovarian cysts
- large ovaries
- skin darkening
- thick skin patches
- trouble getting pregnant
- unexplained weight gain
Typical IBS symptoms include:
If you think you have PCOS and IBS, talk with a primary care doctor.
You should also see a doctor if you have:
- irregular or no periods
- unexplained weight gain
- unexplained bowel changes
- persistent bloating
- difficulty getting pregnant
If your primary care doctor thinks you have PCOS and IBS, they’ll refer you to a gynecologist and gastroenterologist. A gynecologist specializes in the female reproductive system, while a gastroenterologist specializes in the digestive system.
You can also mention your symptoms at your yearly gynecologist appointment. Since digestive symptoms are often associated with PCOS and other reproductive disorders, it’s important to tell your gynecologist about them.
Also, if you think you have one condition but not the other, you should still see a doctor.
PCOS and IBS are diagnosed using several methods.
For both conditions, doctors will ask about your medical history. This will give them an idea of what might be causing your symptoms.
They’ll also use the following tests:
- A physical exam is used to diagnose PCOS. Your gynecologist will check the size of your ovaries. To diagnose IBS, a primary care doctor will look for abdominal bloating and listen to your stomach.
- Blood tests can identify abnormal hormone levels, which might indicate PCOS. They can also rule out other possible conditions, such as infections.
- An ultrasound allows your doctor to examine your ovaries. They’ll check to see if you have excess follicles, which are fluid-filled sacs in which eggs grow.
- A stool test helps your doctor look for blood or signs of infection in your stool.
There’s currently no cure for PCOS or IBS. However, in both conditions, treatment focuses on reducing and managing symptoms.
The first line of treatment involves lifestyle changes, followed by medication. Here’s what each treatment might involve:
- Dietary changes. Eating a nutrient-rich, balanced diet as often as possible can ease some symptoms of PCOS. If you also have IBS, it may help to eat more fiber, avoid or limit gluten, or follow a low FODMAP diet.
- Stress management. Since stress plays a role in both conditions, your doctor will recommend stress relief. This may include exercise, adequate sleep, or therapy.
- Medication. Your doctor may prescribe medication for PCOS symptoms like irregular periods, excess hair growth, and fertility issues. They may also prescribe IBS medications for diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain.
It’s worth noting that taking some medications for one condition might negatively affect the other.
For instance, PCOS increases your risk for diabetes. Your doctor might recommend metformin, which lowers your blood sugar levels. But metformin may have side effects like diarrhea, constipation, and gas, which can worsen IBS symptoms.
Antidepressants, which may be used to ease IBS symptoms, may be recommended. That’s because depression may contribute to IBS. However, using antidepressants for a long time may be linked to an increase in your risk for diabetes, which is also higher with PCOS.
If you have both conditions, it’s important to continually communicate with your healthcare team. This will help them create the best treatment plan for your situation.
Since there’s no cure for either condition, living with PCOS and IBS depends on effective disease management.
This primarily involves lifestyle changes, such as:
- staying as physically active as possible
- eating a nutrient-rich, balanced diet as often as possible
- managing stress, anxiety, and depression
- avoiding IBS triggers
Understandably, it can be difficult to adopt certain lifestyle changes. Do not hesitate to ask your doctors for tips or guidance.
Disease management is especially important for PCOS to help lower your risk for developing other conditions over time, such as:
- heart disease
- high cholesterol levels
- type 2 diabetes
- pregnancy complications
- mental health disorders
- endometrial cancer
For the best outlook, attend your regular checkups, so your doctor can monitor your symptoms and offer personalized advice.
PCOS and IBS might be connected in several ways. PCOS is marked by high ovarian hormones, which can affect how your bowels work. Both conditions also involve inflammation. What’s more, IBS is more common in women than men.
See a primary care doctor if you think you have PCOS and/or IBS. They may refer you to a gynecologist and gastroenterologist for further evaluation.
Treatment for PCOS and IBS mainly involves lifestyle changes, which can help you find relief and manage both conditions.