Symptomatology of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease during the menstrual cycle

Gastroenterol Rep (Oxf). 2015 Aug;3(3):185-93. doi: 10.1093/gastro/gov010. Epub 2015 Mar 18.


Gender-related physiological variations in gastrointestinal (GI) symptomatology have been observed in women of reproductive age. Many women experience cyclical changes in GI symptomatology during their menstrual cycle, particularly alteration in their bowel habits. Physiological studies of healthy women during the menstrual cycle showed a prolonged GI transit time during the luteal phase, either in the oro-cecum route or in the colon. Worsened GI symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating or diarrhea are observed in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) during menses. This may be due to elevated prostaglandin levels during menses, with an enhanced perception of viscera-somatic stimuli resulting in nausea, abdominal distension and pain. Also patients with IBS or IBD demonstrate a cyclical pattern more closely related to their bowel habits than healthy controls. Women with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) also have exacerbated symptoms during menses; however, it is unclear whether this relates to physiological variation or disease exacerbation in IBS or IBD. Studies examining the association of the menstrual cycle and GI symptomatology in patients with IBS or IBD, have not yet clarified the underlying mechanisms. Moreover medications-such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and oral contraceptive pills used for dysmenorrhea and menstrual migraine in those patients have not well been controlled for in the previous studies, which can contribute to further bias. Understanding changes in GI symptomatology during the menstrual cycle may help to determine the true extent of disease exacerbation and proper management strategy.

Keywords: inflammatory bowel disease; irritable bowel syndrome; menstrual cycle; symptomatology.

Publication types

  • Review