Effect of gender on prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome in the community: systematic review and meta-analysis

Am J Gastroenterol. 2012 Jul;107(7):991-1000. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2012.131. Epub 2012 May 22.


Objectives: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is thought to be commoner in women. However, no systematic review has confirmed whether this is the case, or assessed whether any proposed female preponderance remains stable according to geography and criteria used to define IBS. Nor has effect of gender on subtype of IBS been examined systematically.

Methods: MEDLINE, EMBASE, and EMBASE Classic were searched (up to October 2011) to identify population-based studies reporting prevalence of IBS in adults (≥15 years) according to gender, and defined using symptom-based criteria, or questionnaire. The prevalence of IBS in women and men was extracted for all studies, and according to study location and diagnostic criteria used, and compared using odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Prevalence of each subtype of IBS, according to predominant stool pattern, was compared in women and men with IBS.

Results: Of the 390 papers evaluated, 56 studies containing 188,229 subjects were eligible. The OR for IBS in women, compared with men, in all studies was 1.67 (95% CI: 1.53-1.82). Prevalence of IBS was not significantly higher in women, compared with men, in South Asian, South American, or African studies. The OR was highest with the Rome I criteria (1.99; 95% CI: 1.76-2.25), and lowest with the Rome II criteria (1.40; 95% CI: 1.24-1.59). Women with IBS were more likely to exhibit the constipation-predominant subtype (OR: 2.38; 95% CI: 1.45-3.92), and less likely to meet criteria for the diarrhea-predominant subtype (OR: 0.45; 95% CI: 0.32-0.65) than men with IBS.

Conclusions: Prevalence of IBS appeared modestly higher in women, and this remained relatively stable according to geography and criteria used to define its presence. However, among individuals with IBS, subtypes varied according to gender.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors