5 Things Seniors Should Know About IBS


IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a common condition, but it can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are wide-ranging, especially for older adults. IBS is especially tricky to diagnose because its symptoms mimic those of several other conditions. Learn more about this common disorder and how you can alleviate its frustrating symptoms. 

What Is IBS?

IBS is a common condition that impacts the large intestine[1]. This disorder causes painful or uncomfortable abdominal symptoms. However, IBS does not increase risk of colon cancer or damage the digestive tract. The medical community has long considered IBS to be a functional gastrointestinal disorder, which means that the condition is related to the digestive system instead of biochemical or structural abnormalities. Still, further research reveals that the gut and brain are actually deeply connected.

Other names for IBS include:

  • Spastic colon
  • Irritable colon
  • Irritable bowel
  • Nervous stomach

According to the Cleveland Clinic, approximately 10-15% of American adults suffer from IBS. Only about 5-7% of people receive an IBS diagnosis since the symptoms are so common and, sometimes, subtle. 

Most people can manage IBS through a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.   

How Does IBS Present in Older Adults?

The issue with IBS for older adults is that the condition’s symptoms mirror those of other more serious conditions or diseases, including colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. This symptom confusion can result in an incorrect diagnosis. You should see a doctor for regular check-ups if you are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms. A strong doctor-patient relationship could help mitigate issues with diagnosis and treatment. 

IBS is not an inevitable part of the ageing experience. Though your digestive tract does get more sensitive as you age, you can reduce your risk of developing IBS and manage any symptoms that might arise.

5 Things to Know About IBS

Now that you have an understanding of IBS, let’s dive into some important things to know about the condition.

  1. IBS affects more than just your gut.

As mentioned above, medical professionals once categorized IBS as a functional gastrointestinal disorder. This classification means that medical tools cannot pick up on IBS symptoms, which makes it difficult for a care team to achieve a diagnosis and treatment plan. People with IBS often feel that this label stifled their chances of effective treatment because it has the connotation of “the great unknown.”

However, the medical community’s understanding of IBS has advanced to include the brain-gut network[2]. This inclusion throws the door wide open for explorations of how the central nervous system communicates with the digestive system. In fact, medical professionals now believe that people with IBS have some level of disordered function within the gut-brain network.

IBS is now a disorder of brain-gut interaction, or DBGI, which speaks to a larger shift in how the medical community addresses the condition. Essentially, when the gut experiences distress, the brain does, too. This connection means that behavioral medicine strategies can help manage IBS symptoms in some cases.

2.      Women are more likely to develop IBS than men.

Women are twice as likely as men to develop IBS, especially after puberty[3]. Anyone who develops IBS is more likely to develop the condition before the age of 50. However, postmenopausal women have the most severe IBS pain – even more so than men or menstruating women. These distinctions have prompted additional research into the brain-gut and microbiome interactions in postmenopausal and premenopausal women. The potential conclusion here is that reduced estrogen levels, like those seen in menopause and different phases of the menstrual cycle, disrupt the brain-gut connection and impact the overall microbiome. This disruption can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, including pain, bloating, and changes in the stool.

3.      Symptoms present differently for everyone.

IBS does not cause the same symptoms for each person. IBS symptoms include:

  • Changes to your bowel movement schedule
  • Changes to your bowel movement’s appearance
  • Mucus in your bowel movements
  • Excessive gas
  • Constipation 
  • Abdominal cramping, pain, or bloating in relation to a bowel movement

Some people with IBS experience more constipation than diarrhea, or vice versa. Though most people with IBS will present some gastrointestinal symptoms, the condition does not have a clearly defined symptom profile. People who struggle with gastrointestinal issues might feel frustrated about the lack of symptom clarity when trying to nail down a diagnosis. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, make an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss the possibility of IBS.

Severe IBS symptoms require more attention. You should see a doctor if you experience the sudden onset any of the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea during the night
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Inexplicable vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Anemia
  • Consistent pain (not relieved by bowel movement or gas)

4.      Stress and infections can cause IBS.

Medical professionals do not know the exact cause of IBS. The condition’s unknown cause creates another obstacle in obtaining a diagnosis. However, some specific factors are associated with developing IBS. 

Potential IBS triggers include:

  • Stress. People who experience high stress, specifically in childhood, are more likely to develop IBS. Other strong emotions, including anxiety and depression, can trigger pain signals in the gut that cause gastrointestinal issues. Additionally, stress affects the immune system and the immune system can trigger IBS symptoms. 
  • Infections. Severe diarrhea episodes, or gastroenteritis, can cause IBS. These infections come from bacteria or a virus. A surplus of intestinal bacteria, or bacterial overgrowth, might also cause IBS.
  • Intestinal muscle contractions. Layers of muscle line the walls of the intestines. These muscles contract as food travels through the digestive tract. Muscle contractions that are stronger and longer than normal can result in bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Muscle contractions that are weaker and shorter than usual can reduce food passage and cause dry, hard stools. 
  • Changes in gut microbes. Viruses, fungi, and bacteria exist in the intestines and play a vital role in healthy digestive function. People with IBS might have different viruses, fungi, and bacteria than people without IBS.
  • Nervous system. Disruptions to the nervous system may cause serious gastrointestinal distress. When the intestines and the brain do not have a clear line of communication, the digestive process suffers. These disruptions can cause diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. 

5.      Lifestyle changes and medications can alleviate IBS symptoms. 

IBS does not have a cure. However, lifestyle changes and medications can relieve symptoms. Your symptoms help determine your treatment plan. For example, two weeks on the rifaximin antibiotic could help clear up diarrhea, whereas you might need a longer medication plan if you suffer from constipation.

Lifestyle changes that can help alleviate IBS symptoms include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Peppermint oil pills
  • Meditation 
  • Diet changes 

The unknown origins of IBS do make treatment more difficult. The medical community is more in tune than ever with what might help someone who has IBS. It might take some time to figure out what works for you, but the relief you will feel is worth the trouble. In fact, you might just embark on a total lifestyle shift, including diet, exercise, and mental health maintenance. An alert button can complement treatments for IBS as part of a holistic care plan.

An Emergency Response Solution Can Help People With IBS

Severe IBS symptoms can include vomiting, fever, and intense abdominal pain. If you have IBS, the condition increases potential for a health emergency. Use a panic button alarm to alleviate feelings of stress about the possibility of an extreme IBS flare-up. Whether you’re at home or running errands, Alert1 has button alarm options that will ease your mind. 

If you have some sort of IBS-related health episode, or if you fall, you can press the button on your medical alert system. Pressing this button connects you with a certified and highly trained agent at a 24/7 Command Center. These agents are uniquely prepared to walk you through a stressful situation, and they will make sure to contact emergency response services on your behalf. Once emergency responders arrive, your agent will contact everyone in your Circle of Care to let your loved ones know how you’re doing. You’ll pre-set the people in your Circle of Care so you control the flow of information. 

Think about where you’ll use your panic button alarm. Do you mostly stay at home, or do you have a robust social calendar? An In-Home button alert works within 600 feet of the home base unit, and an On-the-Go option provides coverage while you’re out running errands or visiting with family. If you would like coverage no matter where you go, try out an In-Home + On-the-Go + Fall Detection button alarm. Fall detection technology can sense a fall and place the call without you pressing the button. Older adults who live alone, or older adults with a chronic health condition, like IBS, should consider emergency alert systems with fall detection.

Medical Alert Systems-- Affordable Security

All of this information might be a lot to digest, especially if you've recently received an IBS diagnosis. There is so much to learn about this condition. The more you learn, the better you can care for yourself. If you would feel more peace of mind with 24/7/365 security and protection, a medical alert system is a good choice. Alert1 has button alarms starting at less than $20 per month. You’ll never pay for “false alarms” or multiple button pushes. Here's to your good health!


[1] Herndon, Jaime. 2019, Mar. 7. Everything You Want to Know About IBS. Healthline.com. Everything You Want to Know About IBS.

[2] Kamiya, Atsushi. 2020. The Brain-Gut Connection. Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Brain-Gut Connection.

[3] Kim, Young Sun, Kim, Nayoung. 2018, Oct. 1. Sex-Gender Differences in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. Sex-Gender Differences in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.