Yes Really – Hot Girls Do Have IBS

What is the real reason behind this gendered health issue?
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo:Getty Images

If you’ve ventured anywhere near gut health TikTok as of late, you’ll be no stranger to the concept that “hot girls have IBS”.

Not actually referring to the status of your “hotness”, this phrase simply refers to the growing number of young women opening up about their struggle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, who’ve turned to social media to find comfort in others who have similar symptoms.

The hashtag #hotgirlshaveibs has racked up a whopping 25.7 million views on TikTok, filling up our For You Pages with storytimes, candid advice and even comedic self-mocking videos from those looking for ways to cope with and share truths about IBS.

Though the trend has certainly carved a more accessible and stigma-free space to talk openly about the realities of the condition, it inevitably raises questions as to why so many women – particularly young women – are cropping up under this trend, and the reasons behind this gender gap.

According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), IBS symptoms, or at least those persistent enough for people to seek medical advice, are twice as prevalent in women than men. It is also most likely to occur in people between the ages of 20-30, explaining why so many young women are becoming the face of the condition online.

Why women?

“There are a number of theories as to why this may be,” explains Dr Matthew Noble, medical director at Babylon Health. “But like much of IBS itself, this is more likely to be a combination of multiple factors acting together than any one thing alone.

“We know that many of the symptoms of IBS are caused by a disruption in the interaction between the brain and the gut; differences between males and females in terms of hormones, brain physiology and response to pain may all affect how these systems interact.”

What symptoms do young women with IBS typically experience?

According to the NHS website, the most common symptoms of the syndrome include:

  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation

For many women with the condition, it seems that their first experiences with IBS are linked to periods of stress or significant change in their lives.

“I was 20 when I first started displaying symptoms of IBS – right at the beginning of my third and final year of my undergrad,” says 22-year-old Olivia.

“My symptoms were mainly around meal times,” she remembers. “At the start, I literally could not eat without feeling sick to my stomach or bloating to a point that my clothes were uncomfortable. I would spend 30 mins cooking myself a meal, take one bite, and have to run to the toilet or go for a lie down. The stomach pain/cramps were so crippling sometimes.”

For 24-year-old Ava*, her symptoms of IBS manifested mainly as diarrhoea.

“The longer I’ve had IBS the more I’ve become reactive to certain foods like alliums (onions, garlic) and lactose. It’s strange because sometimes I can be fine with a certain food or meal and another time it can trigger a flare up,” she says.

Another symptom, one particularly talked about by the IBS “hot girls”, is excessive gas and lack of control over your bowels. This is certainly the case for 22-year-old Evalyn*, who experiences “sudden rushes to go for a poo but quickly passing with no actual need to go, [as well as] regular farting.”

Is stress a factor?

It is a common misconception that stress causes IBS – this is not technically true. While stress can affect, trigger or worsen the onset of IBS symptoms, it is not a direct cause of the bowel condition. “

Stress can affect the gut in a number of ways, even in people without a diagnosis of IBS. Stress affects how our brains function and will further disrupt the interaction between the brain and the gut, commonly leading to a flare-up of IBS symptoms,” explains Dr Noble.

For Ava*, suffering from anxiety has inextricably worsened her experience with IBS.

She shares with HuffPost UK: “I had anxiety before I had IBS but now my anxiety is now very linked to [the condition] — if I’m feeling anxious, the easiest thing for me to feel anxious about is having an IBS flare up, which causes a vicious circle.”

When it’s time to seek medical help

For getting an accurate diagnosis, it’s all about recognising the symptoms (see above) and whether or not they are consistent.

Dr Noble advises that “You should definitely seek advice from your GP if you experience these common symptoms. But you should seek urgent advice if you have a change in your bowel habit that lasts over six weeks, especially if you are aged 50 or over, you bleed when you open your bowels, you have any unexplained weight loss, or you notice any lumps or swellings.”

For Olivia, a change in weight combined with her symptoms led her to go to her doctor. “I went because, as bloated as I often was, I was actually losing a lot of weight because I wasn’t eating properly,” she says.

Meanwhile, a significant indicator that you should seek medical help is if it starts to infringe on your quality of life. “I first went to the doctor because I felt like it was really impacting my life and stopping me doing the things which I wanted to do,” recalls Ava*.

For Evalyn*, however, it was her progression into her adult social life that triggered a visit to the GP. “I realised something wasn’t quite right when I started coming to the age of drinking. I would always get hiccups and eventually this would turn into super unpleasant heartburn from a very irritated stomach,” she says.

For more information and advice on Irritable Bowel Syndrome, visit the NHS website here.

*Names changed.