Men With IBS Had More Social Stress Than Women

Women with IBS reported better interpersonal relationships than men with IBS in new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can produce painful symptoms like stomach cramping. And while there are many ways to treat IBS and help patients to have normal lives, one gender may feel more social stress from the disorder than the other.

A recent study assessed the effects that social support, interpersonal problems, negative interactions, and symptom severity had on both men and women with IBS.

The study authors found that, while men did not differ from women in terms of digestive health, men with IBS reported more social problems than women with IBS.

IBS is a painful chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that affects between 25 and 50 million Americans, the study authors wrote. Symptoms of IBS include stomach pain, diarrhea and constipation.

Because past IBS research has focused most on women, the differences between men's and women's IBS symptoms have not been fully studied, the study authors noted.

“While women are twice as likely to have IBS, it still affects 10 million males about whom little is known” said lead study author Jeffrey M. Lackner, PsyD, from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in New York, in a press release.

The study, presented Oct. 19 at the American College of Gastroenterology meeting in Philadelphia, revealed that the way in which men with IBS interact with others may play a key role in their doctors’ understanding of the severity of their IBS symptoms.

"Previous psychological research findings suggested that males with IBS take on stereotypically feminine traits, including passive and accommodating behaviors," Dr. Lackner and colleagues wrote. But the authors of the current study found the opposite to be true.

Men with IBS differed little from women with the disorder in terms of digestive health. But the men reported more social problems than the women in the study.

The study authors said men with IBS described themselves as having limited affection and feeling detached from others. Men also felt less socially supported and often tried to dominate their relationships.

The researchers noted that past research has found social stress to be a risk factor for developing IBS. But the connection between stress and IBS has been somewhat unclear.

These findings may provide insight into the ways men with IBS interact with their doctors, Dr. Lackner noted. Patients with a more distant and dominant interpersonal style might need to work more closely with their doctors to come to a shared understanding of the nature of their GI symptoms and how best to treat them. The severity of the patient's GI symptoms may affect the doctor-patient relationship, which could limit the doctor's ability to effectively treat the disorder, the study authors added.

To study gender differences between IBS patients, the authors gathered data on 284 patients diagnosed with IBS. They asked patients to complete tests that measured their perception of social support, interpersonal problems, negative interactions with others and severity of IBS symptoms.

The study authors found that GI symptoms remained similar in severity for both genders. But men with IBS had more interpersonal problems than women.

"That discrepancy underscores our need to move beyond clinical intuition and anecdote, and systematically study the different ways that each gender experiences diseases in general," Dr. Lackner said.

Research presented at conferences has not necessarily been peer-reviewed.

A grant from the National Institutes of Health funded the study. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
October 27, 2014
Last Updated:
November 3, 2014