IBS Pain Relief with Exercise, Birth Control Pills

CareyK84 Asked :

I have been suffering with IBS from my teens and have tried just about everything recommended by my doctor and all types of health products. Apart from a few things that offered moderate relief, there was nothing that helped me completely. My main symptoms are pain and diarrhea. The diarrhea comes and goes, sometimes its not there for weeks. But when it starts I know that I can expect a very difficult few days or even a week and then it goes away again for a few more weeks or month or so. My bigger problem is the pain. It is constant and on some days it is mild while on other days it can be excruciating although the level of pain is not related to the diarrhea. As a woman who suffers with painful periods, you can only imagine what my life is like. There is never a day without some pain – IBS or period pain.

Anyway, a few months ago, I started up on birth control pills and also began working out at the gym because I did not want to get flabby from taking the pill.  Ever since then I have had only two diarrhea episodes and they were not as bad as they usually are. The more amazing thing is that in the past 2 or 3 weeks, my IBS pain is gone right down. It’s like a 90% improvement. I think that my period pain has also eased but I am not sure if I am imagining it. I have not really changed my diet because I have always been a healthy eater. I am wondering if my IBS is related to a problem with my menstrual hormones or could it just have been the exercise? I am terrified of giving up the exercise or the birth control because I am so happy with my almost pain-free life.

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Dr. Chris Answered :

There is no way of conclusively ascertaining whether the birth control pills or exercise is helping with your IBS. You would have to discontinue one or the other and then monitor for the recurrence of symptoms. IBS as such responds to many different factors and changes and it is not uncommon to experience relief just from regular exercise. Many IBS sufferers will testify to this. As for the link between female hormones and IBS, a study (1)  conducted on this possibility found that women report an exacerbation of IBS symptoms in relation to menses yet there was no significant improvement of the IBS symptoms upon using oral contraceptives. However, individual response has to also been taken into account – what may help one IBS sufferer may be totally ineffective in another.

I assume that your doctor has done the necessary tests and investigations to exclude other bowel disorders and thereby come to the diagnosis of IBS. What does  come into question here is whether this pain that you were always experiencing was really due to a gastrointestinal disorder or possibly related to some gynecological problem. As you had mentioned, the IBS pain and diarrhea episodes did not seem to be related so it possible that some underlying problem like PCOS or endometriosis could have been responsible for the constant pain.

Of course the nature of the pain in IBS and the gynecological conditions mentioned above would be significantly different but the two may have been confused. It would explain why your pain has eased since starting birth control pills but many women who suffer with period pain also report an improvement with exercise. Nevertheless the less frequent bouts of diarrhea does indicate that you are experiencing some improvement in terms of your IBS and this is a positive development.

It is also possible that this is a temporary relief of the symptoms but this should not damper your spirits. Managing IBS is a lifetime commitment and often what helps today may be ineffective tomorrow. There is no reason to give up the exercise – apart from possible helping you with the IBS/period pain, it also has a host of other health benefits. As for the birth control pills, you may someday have to discontinue it if you decide to fall pregnant. Rather deal with the problem at that time. Speak to your doctor and explain the change of symptoms. There may be other aspects of your condition that may come to light with the recent improvement.


  1. Effects of Changes in Female Sex Hormones on Irritable Bowel Symptoms

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