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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in Elderly Adults

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a disorder affecting the large intestine or colon. It can cause cramping, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and a host of other symptoms. With this condition comes a lot of questions for older adults. Can IBS develop at any age? Can IBS develop later in life? Can IBS get worse as you get older? In this post, we’ll answer these questions and more about irritable bowel syndrome in older adults.

Causes of IBS

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but a number of factors appear to play a role. These factors include:

  • Muscle contractions in the intestine. Strong and long-lasting contractions in the intestine can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Meanwhile, weak contractions can slow the passage of food and lead to dry, hard stools.

  • Abnormalities in the nervous system. When the signals are poor between your brain and intestines, you may experience discomfort when your abdomen stretches from stool or gas. This can result in diarrhea, pain, or constipation.

  • Infections. Bacterial overgrowth in the intestines or a severe bout of diarrhea can lead to IBS.

  • Stress. While stress does not directly cause IBS, it can exacerbate symptoms.

  • Food. Many people experience IBS symptoms upon eating or drinking certain foods or beverages. These can include dairy products, wheat, beans, citrus fruits, cabbage, and carbonated drinks.

Symptoms of IBS

Symptoms of IBS can be minor or severe. See a doctor immediately if you experience any serious painful symptoms. Some signs of IBS include:

  • Constipation

  • Violent episodes of diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Stomach pains and cramps that feel worse after meals and feel better after a bowel movement

  • Heartburn and indigestion

  • Headaches

  • Bloating

  • Gas

  • Hard, loose, or mucus-filled stools

  • Mucus

  • A feeling of needing to poop even though you just did

  • Needing to pee often

  • Food intolerance

  • Anxiety, depression, and fatigue

  • Sexual problems

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Weight loss

  • Fever

  • Anemia

Managing IBS

Ways to manage IBS and its symptoms include:

  • Reduce stress. IBS can be stressful on its own and that can be compounded by stress from other age-related diseases. Get some fresh air, meditate, journal, and do other activities you may enjoy to keep stress levels low.

  • Eat (and drink) a nutritious diet. Eat a diet rich in fiber, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, try to drink at least four glasses of water per day.

  • Make lifestyle changes. Quit smoking, get more exercise, eat smaller meals, avoid caffeine, and make other changes. Ask your doctor for additional recommendations on changes you can make to your everyday life.

  • Ask your doctor about medications. Your doctor may give you laxatives, fiber supplements, and medications to stop diarrhea. They may also prescribe you with other medications to relieve specific symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.

FAQs About Irritable Bowel Syndrome in the Elderly

Can You Get IBS at Any Age?

IBS is more common in younger people but it is possible to develop this condition at any age.

Can You Develop IBS Later in Life?

One may wonder: can you get IBS later in life? While IBS is less common in those over age 50, one can develop IBS later in life.

Does IBS Get Worse with Age?

Fortunately, IBS does not lead to serious health problems like inflammatory bowel diseases. IBS can get worse with age or even get better. However, just because it does not lead to serious health complications doesn’t mean it won’t impact your quality of life.

Does IBS Go Away with Age?

IBS is a chronic condition that may not go away completely. However, certain lifestyle changes and medications can help one manage IBS.