It is not clear what causes irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, but certain factors seem to make some people more vulnerable than others. Risk factors for IBS include:
Sex. About 80% of IBS sufferers are women, reports the American College of Gastroenterology. Researchers aren't sure why this is so, but they suspect that changing hormones in the female menstrual cycle may have something to do with it.
Age. IBS can affect people of all ages, but it is more likely to occur in people in their teens through their 40s. About 15% to 20% of people in that age range have IBS, according to a study from the Southern California Permanente Medical Group in San Diego. The prevalence rate drops down to 10% to 12% in people older than 50.
Emotional trouble. Many IBS patients appear to be stressed, have a psychiatric disorder, or have experienced some sort of a traumatic event such as sexual abuse or domestic violence. It is not clear what comes first -- the emotional turmoil or the IBS. Nevertheless, there's evidence that stress management and behavioral therapy helps relieve symptoms.
Food sensitivities. Some people may have digestive systems that rumble angrily with consumption of dairy, wheat, fructose (a simple sugar found in fruits), or sorbitol (a sugar substitute). Eating certain fare such as fatty foods, carbonated drinks, and alcohol can also invite chronic digestive upset. There's no proof any of these edibles cause IBS, but they may trigger symptoms.
Eating large meals, or eating while doing a stressful activity, such as driving or working in front of the computer. Again, these activities do not cause IBS, but for the hypersensitive colon, they can spell trouble.
Taking certain medications. Studies have shown an association between IBS symptoms and antibiotics, antidepressants, and drugs containing sorbitol.
Experiencing "traveler's diarrhea" or food poisoning. There is a controversy over whether these events may trigger the first onset of IBS symptoms.
Talk to your doctor if you suspect you might have IBS. There are various treatments available for IBS with constipation and IBS with diarrhea that may make your life easier.