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What are the risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

About 20% of all Americans have IBS, a syndrome which appears to run in families. IBS usually starts before age 35, but can begin at any age. Nearly three-quarters of patients with IBS are women; more men may suffer from the condition, but it is not known.

While stress does not cause IBS, it may worsen the symptoms. Certain foods may also worsen symptoms, such as milk products, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, sorbitol, cabbage, and broccoli. Conversely, eating foods with fiber may help symptoms, as may eating smaller meals.

Your risk for irritable bowel syndrome is higher if you are female. Approximately two times as many women as men have the digestive tract disorder. In addition, if other close family members have irritable bowel syndrome, your likelihood of developing it is higher.

Females and those under 50 years old are more likely to have IBS. A proposed risk factor for IBS is a history of a preceding infectious diarrheal illness (gastroenteritis) caused by bacteria. Other possible risk factors include antibiotic usage before the diagnosis of IBS. There has been no evidence to show that smoking, alcohol usage, or coffee intake lead to IBS.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.