Who is at risk of developing Irritable Bowel Syndrome? December 14, 2015 10:30

Firstly it is important to state that anyone could have IBS. It affects a wide variety of people and demographics. Unfortunately the exact cause is unknown.

Having said that there are groups of people where Irritable Bowel Syndrome is more commonly found. By looking at population statistics it is possible to see what we will call “risk factors” that make a person more likely to have Irritable Bowel Syndrome*

“Irritable bowel syndrome is frequent but fluctuating in the general population.”
Kay L et al 1994

Age: IBS appears at its peak between the ages of 20 and 30 although it is still commonly found in those in their teens and right through to early 40s. IBS is less common in those aged either younger or older than stated here.

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Gender: The American College of Gastroenterology states that nearly twice as many women as men suffer from IBS. They do not currently have a reason for this although some suggest it may be because of a differing in the severity of symptoms or because of different hormonal influences.

 

Geography: Although there is some fluctuation on average globally 11% of the population suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Countries such as New Zealand, The United States of America and The United Kingdom have significantly higher numbers reaching 20%, or greater, of their population. This may be due to more proactive diagnostic practices but the exact reason is not yet known. Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria display some of the highest prevalence with as much as 30% of their populations identified as suffering from some form of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

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Socioeconomic Status: There is limited research at this stage to identify if the status of a person within their society has an impact on the chances of developing Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There are theories being considered about the impact of both poverty and wealth but at this stage studies conclude that either there is no statistically significant difference or that the size of study is not large enough to give an accurate explanation.

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Family History: The question is often asked, if my family member has IBS am I more likely to develop IBS as well? What is known for certain is that Irritable Bowel Syndrome “aggregates around family groupings” (and in plain English, it is common for relatives of a sufferer of IBS to have or develop IBS). What is unknown is why? Some are looking for a genetic link, while others question if similar environments are the cause of this phenomenon.
Those that think that the shared conditions are caused by growing up in a similar environment make a strong argument that these people are exposed to similar risk factors. No single genetic marker has been identified as a predisposition for IBS but geneticists are still looking into combinations of genes that are common in sufferers of IBS.

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Food Intolerances: Some foods are known to irritate the bowel and trigger episodes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Those suffering from an intolerance to certain foods may find that these have the same effect. There is no proof currently that a food intolerance or allergy causes IBS but it is known to be a factor in triggering symptoms.

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Stress or Psychological Illness: Irritable bowel syndrome is a physiological (physical) illness although there is strong evidence linking stress and other psychological conditions to the development of IBS. Some researchers have proven that stress can have a damaging effect on the intestines. Other psychological conditions that have been linked to IBS include anxiety disorders and depression although for the most part these conditions, including stress, are known to act as a trigger to IBS symptoms and further research is being carried out about their role in the development of the condition.

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Related Medical Conditions: Some studies have shown links to conditions such as severe gastroenteritis (infectious diarrhea) or certain bacteria in the intestines. There have also been links made between certain medications including blood pressure drugs and some anti-acids and the development of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

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To find out more about epidemiology of Irritable Bowel Syndrome we recommend you read this publication from Dove Press. They have some helpful tables and pictures of varieties in the prevalence of IBS globally.

*More likely because a higher proportion of people sharing that risk factor also suffer from IBS than the average population.

**Please remember to always seek medical advice. This article is written generically about IBS and should not supersede any advice received by a medical professional about an individual condition. If you think you have IBS or any other condition get the advice of your Family Doctor especially before beginning or changing any course of medication.