What Does IBS Have to Do With It?

PCOS BlogHave you ever experienced lasting stomach pain, gas, constipation and/or diarrhea? If so, you may have Googled to see if your stomach problems were related to your PCOS, only to find that it isn’t usually listed as a symptom. While these symptoms could mean many different things, it’s possible that you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and PCOS. IBS can affect 6-14% of all teenagers and is more common among girls. In fact, one small research study showed that as many as 42% of women with PCOS also had IBS. Keep in mind though, that more clinical studies are needed (with many more participants) to know for sure if there is a significant relationship between IBS and PCOS.

IBS can show up in a few different ways. Feeling bloated and having gas on most days can be a sign of IBS. A change in bathroom habits, such as having diarrhea or constipation, is another sign. For some, stressful situations will cause a stomachache – but having symptoms only once in a while doesn’t mean you have IBS. Sound confusing? IBS can be frustrating because the symptoms are different from person to person and there is no concrete way to diagnose it. With that being said, if you get an upset stomach most days, you should tell your health care provider. He or she can help figure out if your symptoms are from IBS or something else, such as a virus or side effect from the medicine, Metformin (sometimes prescribed for PCOS).

Having PCOS can be hard enough to deal with, and a second diagnosis isn’t fun. However, there are some steps you can take to help manage both PCOS and IBS that might look familiar if you follow a PCOS-friendly diet:

  • Keep a food and symptom journal: If you write down what you eat and how you feel, you might find a connection between certain foods and symptoms such as gas. For example, if you’re following a PCOS-diet and avoiding sugar by using a sugar-substitute such as Splenda®, that could be a trigger for IBS symptoms.
  • Healthy weight loss: Losing weight can help to improve symptoms of both PCOS and IBS. Make sure to do this in a safe way by eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat. Don’t forget to exercise!
  • Fiber is king (or queen!): As with PCOS, if you have IBS you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting enough fiber. Try to add fiber-rich foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains to your diet slowly – a little bit more each day. For some people, having too much fiber can trigger IBS symptoms, so keep track of your symptoms over time.
  • Improve eating habits: People with IBS can feel better when they eat fewer fried foods, avoid spicy food, and limit caffeine. It can also help to eat several small meals during the day instead of three big ones, just like with PCOS!

Having to deal with two health problems can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start by making an appointment with your health care provider and check out tips in our PCOS and IBS guides. You CAN learn to manage both PCOS and IBS and most importantly, feel better!

-Dietitian Katrina