Bowel dysfunction in postmenopausal women

Women Health. 1998;27(4):55-66. doi: 10.1300/J013v27n04_04.


Background/aims: The perimenopausal and postmenopausal states are frequently accompanied by a variety of symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Although vasomotor, vaginal and genitourinary symptoms prevail, gastrointestinal complaints such as abdominal bloating may occur. In this study, we investigated the nature and prevalence of gastrointestinal and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)-type complaints in women going through their climacteric and postmenopausal periods.

Patients/methods: 228 women (170 postmenopausal and 58 premenopausal) who presented for evaluation at a primary care practice limited to women's health were evaluated prospectively by a previously validated gastrointestinal symptoms questionnaire designed to evaluate symptoms suggestive of IBS. At the time of their participation in the study, none of these women was presenting for evaluation of abdominal or genitourinary symptoms.

Results: Thirty-eight percent of postmenopausal women reported altered bowel function, in contrast to 14% of premenopausal ones (p < 0.001). Despite this, the two groups did not differ in regards to the occurrence of abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, suggestive of IBS. The prevalence of IBS-type complaints peaked to 36% during the climacteric period (40-49 years). Laxative usage (9.4% prevalence), gaseousness/excessive flatulence (48% prevalence) and heart-burn/acid regurgitation (34% prevalence) were also more common among postmenopausal women. Estrogen use did not affect gastrointestinal symptoms in any of the two groups.

Conclusions: Although the possible role of aging on symptom perception-regardless of hormonal status-cannot be ruled out, these results suggest that peri- and postmenopausal women have a high prevalence of altered bowel function and IBS-like gastrointestinal complaints that should be carefully assessed. If the diagnosis of IBS is confirmed, appropriate treatment may improve patients' symptoms, although this approach requires further study.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / epidemiology*
  • Constipation / epidemiology
  • Diarrhea / epidemiology
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Female
  • Flatulence
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause / physiology*
  • Premenopause / physiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology