Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Older Adults: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment – Healthline | WHs Answers

Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS, is a condition in which multiple symptoms can occur together, resulting in recurring abdominal pain and even bowel dysfunction. Common side effects can include diarrhea, constipation, or both scenarios. And often these symptoms can persist without causing further damage to the digestive tract.

While IBS is an uncomfortable condition, it’s not directly linked to more serious diseases like cancer. Often it can be managed through medical intervention, dietary changes, lifestyle changes, stress management, or a combination of these.

Read on to learn more about what we know about how IBS works in older populations.

To date, there is still no definitive answer to a single cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) specifically in older populations. Several preliminary studies have offered some working theories.

A possible link between aging and IBS

Brain atrophy is a normal part of brain growth. The brain contains both gray and white matter, with gray matter (GMV) volume decreasing significantly from our 20s and through our 70s. A study from 2018 found an association between abnormalities in gray matter density observed by MRIs and abnormal pain-related activation in IBS patients.

Specifically, by reviewing MRIs of participants in their study, as well as MRIs from other chronic pain studies, the researchers found an association between decreased gray matter density and chronic pain patients compared to control participants. This impacted not only those diagnosed with IBS, but also those with vulvodynia (or vulvar pain).

By further reviewing the Study participant group 2018The researchers also found abnormalities in white matter volume (WMV). However, confirmation of a link between WMV and IBS requires further investigation. More importantly, the researchers noted that it is unclear whether a decrease in GMV can be considered a risk factor for IBS or a consequence of it.

Common risk factors for IBS

Regardless of age, several scenarios can contribute to this condition. According to that National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) people with irritable bowel syndrome tend to have one or more of these common underlying factors:

  • bacterial infections of the digestive tract
  • bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
  • genetic predisposition to developing IBS
  • Food intolerances or intolerances that can cause indigestion
  • Stressful events in early life such as physical or sexual abuse
  • mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and even somatic symptom disorders

Although the cause of IBS in older adults is not well known, the symptoms are tend to be the same in younger adults. The most common symptoms are abdominal pain, usually related to bowel movements, diarrhea, and constipation. However, other symptoms may include:

  • Sensation as if stool has not yet finished
  • whitish mucus in stool
  • gas
  • nausea

There are multiple approaches to treating IBS—across all demographics. For most people, a multifaceted strategy is required to control IBS symptoms and relieve discomfort.

This can include diet changes, stress management, lifestyle changes, and in some cases, prescription medications.

While most treatment modalities are similar for younger populations, treatment for older adults typically focuses more on lifestyle and diet changes, as well as psychological therapy and support.

Medications to treat IBS

Of all the methods of treating IBS, prescription medication is the most common Warnings are given for older adults. This is because there is often an increased risk of side effects or even interactions with other prescribed medications.

However, over-the-counter (OTC) medications may be recommended to treat symptoms, such as loperamide (Imodium) or even laxatives to soften stools. Likewise, your doctor might also recommend probiotics coated peppermint oil capsules.

If your doctor prescribes medications — like Bentyl — for your IBS symptoms, follow the directions carefully. Talk to your doctor about other medications, vitamins, or fiber supplements you’re taking. You will be able to design a schedule that avoids drug interactions.

stress reduction

There is evidence that IBS is strong brain-gut connection. This means that situations that affect your mood can manifest directly in your body — but particularly in your digestive system.

And for many people with IBS, flare-ups can often be linked to specific stressful situations. Learning to better manage stress through cognitive therapy or even mindfulness techniques can help Reduction of body reaction to these experiences and limiting IBS symptoms.

Talk to your doctor or therapist about the best ways to manage your stress and reduce your IBS symptoms.

Because a common risk factor for IBS including previous food intolerances, reviewing and adjusting dietary habits can be one of the best steps you can take to reduce symptoms.

In addition to avoiding known triggers, your doctor or nutritionist may recommend that you eat more fiber to help control constipation or avoid gluten, since it’s a known irritant even for people without celiac disease.

Consider a low-FODMAP diet

Another option for many IBS sufferers is to adopt a low-FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols. They are short-chain carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion. And because they travel to the very bottom of your gut, they serve as fuel for the bacteria that live naturally in your gut.

Not all IBS patients experience FODMAP sensitivity, but often FODMAPs do can cause IBS symptoms and draw fluids that can cause diarrhea.

Common FODMAPs that can trigger symptoms include:

  • Fructose, which is contained in many types of fruit and vegetables as well as table sugar
  • Lactose from dairy products
  • Fructans, a substance found in many grains
  • Galactans found in legumes
  • Polyols, a sugar alcohol found in many sugar substitutes and some fruits and vegetables

Research shows that choosing a low-FODMAP diet can be beneficial up to 75% of people with IBS – which can lead to an improved quality of life.


Most people are familiar with probiotics as a standalone supplement or ingredient in foods that can support gut health. Because several factors can contribute to IBS — bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine being one of them — probiotics can help maintain healthy bacterial levels.

In addition, a 2010 study was published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that probiotics can improve the barrier function of the digestive tract by strengthening the mucosa. Another one now Study 2003 the following 25 IBS sufferers found that those who consumed probiotics reported less gas.

IBS can be an uncomfortable condition to live with and can also affect your quality of life and mental health if left untreated. This digestive problem usually has the same symptoms seen in younger people.

While the cause of IBS in older people is still a matter of debate, experts agree that a holistic approach — including diet and lifestyle changes, stress management, psychological therapies, and medication where necessary — is essential to controlling symptoms and improving your outlook.

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