Are PCOS and IBS related?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are both common conditions.

PCOS is a common endocrine condition, that affects how the ovaries work. In the UK, it is believed to affect approximately 1 in 10 people with ovaries in the UK.

IBS however is a condition that affects the gastrointestinal (digestive) system. It causes symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhoea. Between one and two in 10 people in the UK are believed to have IBS.

So what’s the connection between PCOS and IBS?

PCOS is associated with hormones (luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), an imbalance of these hormones prevents ovulation and thus leads to irregular menstrual cycles. These hormones have also been found to decrease gastrointestinal transit, interfering with bowel function, characteristic of IBS-C (IBS dominant constipation).

Additionally, both conditions have been connected to stress. Studies have found individuals with PCOS may have increased levels of anxiety and stress. This may be why individuals with PCOS have a higher chance of also having IBS, as stress has been found to affect gastrointestinal function and the severity of IBS symptoms.

Understanding the symptoms of PCOS and IBS

While individuals can suffer with both conditions, the symptoms can vary significantly.

Common symptoms of PCOS include:

• Irregular or no periods

• Difficulty getting pregnant as a result of reduced ovulation

• Excess hair growth (hirsutism) most commonly on the face, chest, back or buttocks

• Weight gain

• Thinning hair or loss of from the head

• Oily skin or acne

Common symptoms of IBS include:

• Stomach pain or cramps – often worse after eating

• Bloating, experiencing an uncomfortable and swollen tummy

• Diarrhoea

• Constipation

What to do if you think you have both PCOS and IBS

Both conditions can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, therefore it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to receive a diagnosis.

To receive a diagnosis of IBS, your healthcare professional will ask about your symptoms, the duration and severity of them, as well as how long you have had them. They may carry out further tests such as blood tests and stool samples to rule out any other conditions.

Whilst there is no cure for either condition, both can be improved by managing symptoms. Everyone’s experience will be different, and therefore symptom management will be different for everyone, which is why it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. Lifestyle changes are often considered as the first line of treatment, looking at nutrition, stress management and medication if applicable.

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