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Is IBS Genetic? Types, Risks & How To Deal

Written by Jim Duncan, MSW | Last updated:

Irritable bowel syndrome is a collection of symptoms that can include diarrhea and constipation, among others. It can significantly affect your quality of life. So, why does it happen? Is IBS genetic? Many factors can influence IBS, and genetics is one of them. Let’s dig deeper.

Introduction To IBS And Genetics

Cramping. Diarrhea. The desperate need for a bathroom and the only option is a public toilet with no doors on the stall. The reticence of going to a friend’s house for dinner because you might embarrass yourself with a 15 minute visit to their bathroom. The randomness of, “maybe it’s finally gone,” to “Is this really happening again?” Can such chaos really be affected by your genetics? Of course it can!

So, you’ve got IBS, at least according to your oh-so-knowledgeable best friend, who also has a list of things to try and do to fix that problem. Hey, they might be right, but you decide to check with your doctor, who tells you to come in for a test. It might be IBD.

You hear the terms bandied about as though they are one and the same, but they are two, very different things. The one certain element of this comparison is the bowel part. Is it a syndrome or a disease though? While they do both share similar, common symptoms of cramping and diarrhea, the disparity comes in their cause. Or, in this case, the lack thereof.

So, what’s the difference between IBS and IBD? Syndromes are a clustered group of symptoms that indicate a specific condition for which there is NOT a definitive cause. A disease on the other hand, does have a definitive cause. Thus the problem with the confusion arises in this case. It may be though, that IBS is an actual immune disease that has yet to have a scientifically confirmed cause [1, 2].

Some Facts About IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome is painful and it can turn your whole life upside down. IBS affects a lot of people, between 1% and 35% of people in different countries. In the western world, roughly 1 in 10 people have this condition [3].

Sometimes, symptoms are so bad that more than half of people with IBS say they would give up coffee and alcohol for a month of relief from their symptoms [4].

Approximately 11% (1 in 9) of people who get food poisoning will develop IBS (approximately 5 million people per year) [5]. Women are up to two times more likely than men to develop IBS [6].

More than 70% of people with IBS indicate that their symptoms interfere with everyday life and 46% report missing work or school due to IBS. Fatigue, anxiety, and depression are common issues for those suffering from IBS [7].

But it’s not only about the symptoms. Untreated IBS may cause dangerous complications. The most common of these include iron deficiency and dehydration [8, 9].

Fortunately, there are many ways you can soothe an irritated gut. The effectiveness of these strategies may depend on your DNA.

Types of IBS

There are two main types of IBS: IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) and IBS with constipation (IBS-C). IBS-D is the most common type. Some people have a third type called mixed IBS (IBS-M), which causes constipation and diarrhea at different times [8, 10].

Some IBS flare up symptoms can include [8, 9]:

  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing

There is no known cure for IBS, though some people benefit from antibiotics. If you have it, doctors can help you manage symptoms and prevent IBS flare-ups so that you can live a normal life [11, 12].

The main IBS management strategies include [12]:

  • Eating foods high in dietary fiber
  • Avoiding FODMAP (fermentable carbs) foods
  • Drinking lots of water
  • Regular exercise
  • A healthy & regular sleep schedule
  • Avoiding stress
  • Avoiding triggering foods

How to manage IBS

There are many ways you can manage symptoms of IBS. Genetics may play a role in the effectiveness of these strategies.

What Are The Risk Factors For IBS?

Is IBS genetic? Yes, your genes can affect your gut health, but it’s important to remember that genetics is only one piece of the puzzle. You are also more likely to develop IBS if you are [8]:

  • Under the age of 50
  • Experiencing a lot of mental stress
  • Female or taking estrogen
  • Anxious or depressed
  • Recovering from a gut infection
  • Related to other people with IBS

Also recall that 1 in 9 people who get food poisoning develop IBS, so it’s important to remain aware of that possibility.

The Genetics Of IBS

IBS has major body processes involved in how it presents itself. So, it’s no wonder that genetic factors make up to 60% of the differences [13].

There are a number of genes involved in IBS that relate to [14, 13]:

  • Gut movement (food moving through your bowels)
  • Pain perception
  • Stress
  • Immune system

Given the power of your immune system to affect so many body processes, we’ll take one of those genes as an example.

The TNF gene codes for an immune messenger, signaling your immune system in a variety of ways. It can be beneficial, like when it helps the immune system destroy a tumor. However, it can wreak havoc when it’s over-produced. Not only can it affect your gut [15, 16, 17], but it can also play a role in cancer, skin diseases, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s to name a few.

One TNF variant may make IBS more difficult to manage. If you have this variant, one of the ways you can try to offset this is by incorporating probiotics into your diet to help boost the microbiota in your gut.

On the stress side of things, a variant in the CRHBP gene, which codes a protein that blocks a hormone involved in stress response, may make you more susceptible to stress. So, mitigating stress may be a more important factor for you in handling IBS if you have this CRHBP variant. Various relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation could prove beneficial.

These are just a couple of the genetic possibilities one can consider when trying to best get a handle on a problem like IBS.

How Analyzing Your DNA Can Help You With Gut Health

Having your DNA analyzed can help you understand what risk factors are relevant to you based on your genes and what you can do to address them.

The SelfDecode Irritable Bowel report allows you to optimize your health by uncovering what your genes are doing behind the scenes to affect your odds of struggling with an irritable bowel.

Unlike other DNA companies that only look at one or two SNPs to calculate your genetic risks, SelfDecode analyzes over 390,000 genetic variants related to irritable bowel to give you the most precise data on your personalized report.

Is IBS genetic DNA report

But understanding your risks is just the beginning. Your DNA can help uncover which strategies are more likely to work for you. SelfDecode goes a step beyond merely highlighting your genetic risk of suffering from an irritable bowel. Your report also comes with evidence-based diet, supplement, and lifestyle recommendations to help you optimize your gut health.

By getting your DNA analyzed with SelfDecode, you’ll gain access to over 30 DNA wellness reports covering topics such as irritable bowel, gut inflammation, stress, and much more.

Concluding Remarks

IBS is difficult to get a handle on. Part of the reason for this is the fact that it is still classified as a syndrome. It’s a condition without a clear cause. Who wouldn’t be frustrated with that?

In lieu of scientists finally scoring a win on this, the best you can do is attempt to mitigate the symptoms and either lessen or keep them from happening. Knowing what sets them off or makes them worse is a good place to start, and that starting line is marked by your genes.

Be proactive and start today by investigating your DNA. Knowing if your IBS is genetic is only the first step. Your genes can help you discover which strategies are more likely to work to manage your symptoms. For a gene-based approach to your health, you should check out SelfDecode.

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About the Author

Jim Duncan

Jim completed his M.S.W. in Social Work Administration at Portland State University. He has always been interested in analyzing social issues, and he helped fund and start a program against domestic violence. He has also conducted many public speaking sessions about violence against women, and published 3 fiction novels. Inspired by SelfDecode’s mission to make precision health a reality, he decided to use his natural writing ability to help teach the world about the power and promise of genomics. His areas of interest include science-based writing,  astronomy, and genomics.


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