Is IBS Genetic?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a broad term for a disorder that's known for causing abdominal pain and altered bowel habits like diarrhea or constipation, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). It's a bit mysterious, as doctors don't totally understand what causes it, but it usually begins after a disturbance in the gut. Now, researchers now think there may be a genetic link.

IBS is incredibly common — approximately 10-15% of Americans suffer from it (via IFFGD). It affects women more commonly than men, as 2 in 3 people with IBS are female. Most are under the age of 50, although older people can have it as well. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and often affects your emotional, social, and professional life. The effects of IBS can be unpredictable and contradictory — you may have diarrhea one week and constipation the next. Other symptoms include cramping, bloating, weight loss, rectal bleeding, and persistent pain (via the Mayo Clinic). Needless to say, IBS can greatly challenge your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Could there be a genetic link?

IBS is attributed to a number of factors, including stress, inflammation, and hypersensitivity of the bowels, according to a review published in World Journal of Gastroenterology. However, initial studies show that genes and shared environmental factors may also contribute to IBS, so if you have a family member with IBS, you may be more likely to develop it yourself.

A 2014 study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic has also found that those with a particular subset of IBS have a gene mutation that causes disruption in bowel function. "This gives us hope that from only treating symptoms of the disease, we can now work to find disease-modifying agents, which is where we really want to be to affect long-term treatment of IBS," said study author Dr. Gianrico Farrugia. An earlier Mayo Clinic study also indicated that you're twice as likely to suffer from IBS if you have a family member who has it as well (via WebMD). However, more current research is needed in this area.

IBS may be managed through dietary changes, stress reduction, behavioral therapy, and medications like laxatives, anti-diarrheal agents, or antibiotics (via IFFGD).