The menopause has an impact on almost every aspect of your body, or so it can seem. Many of us may eagerly anticipate the end of menstruation. But the actual process of menopause can be both drawn-out and painful.

Many women report an increase in the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) during the perimenopause phase. This includes those who had not previously experienced bowel problems.

Could hormone replacement therapy during the menopause provide some relief for these women? Especially those who suffer from worsening symptoms of IBS?

Hormones and the menopause

Whilst many scientific studies have found a correlative link between menopause and worsening IBS, a firm reason for this link has yet to be found.

Research into the effects of menstruation on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has suggested that hormonal fluctuations can affect symptoms. This would explain why women often experience an increase in abdominal pain and bowel movements around the time of their period.

During the menopause, hormonal fluctuations are ever present, so it seems likely that this could be a reason for worsening IBS.

HRT and inflammatory bowel disease

One 2008 study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, took a retrospective look at medical records of 65 postmenopausal women. All the women had inflammatory bowel disease – 45 with Crohn’s disease and 25 with ulcerative colitis.

For each woman, disease activity in the five years before the menopause was compared with the five years after menopause had finished. 20 of the women had been using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during the postmenopausal period.

The study found that those women using HRT were 82% less likely to have active IBD symptoms post menopause.

However, studies into irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and HRT use have shown a potential increase in symptoms associated with the hormone therapy. Researchers from the 2008 study acknowledged that a larger trial was needed to confirm their findings.

What to do if you suffer from IBS and are approaching the menopause

If you suffer from IBS or IBD and think you might be perimenopausal, your best first step is to speak to your doctor about how the menopause might affect your condition.

The jury is currently out on whether HRT use could help or hinder bowel conditions. A doctor is unlikely to prescribe hormone therapy as a tool for treating IBS. However they will almost certainly take your condition into account when considering HRT.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some women do experience relief from the symptoms of IBS or IBD when undergoing hormone replacement therapy during the menopause. But as with any treatment, no two patients will have exactly the same experience.