Binge Drinking May Worsen GI Symptoms in Women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Study results show patients with IBS who drink four or more alcoholic drinks in one day may be more likely to experience diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, and indigestion the next day.

Noting that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms are often exacerbated by alcohol consumption, the authors of “Relationship between Patterns of Alcohol Consumption and Gastrointestinal Symptoms Among Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, investigated “prospective associations between daily patterns of alcohol intake and next day's GI symptoms using daily diaries.”

They conducted an observation study that compared women age 18—48 years with IBS and healthy controls. Participants were asked to record daily GI symptoms (including abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, intestinal gas, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, stomach pain, heartburn, and indigestion), alcohol intake, caffeine intake, and cigarette smoking for one month.

The authors reported several interesting findings, including:

  • There were no differences in overall patterns of alcohol consumption between patients with IBS and healthy controls.
  • Patterns of alcohol consumption were associated with GI symptoms among women with IBS. Alcohol consumption among healthy controls showed no such association.
  • The strongest associations for IBS patients were between binge drinking (defined for the purposes of this study as the consumption of four or more alcoholic drinks in one day) and the next day’s GI symptoms, whereas “moderate and light drinking either were not associated or weakly associated with GI symptoms.”
  • Associations between alcohol intake and GI symptoms were stronger for women with IBS-diarrhea than for IBS-constipation or IBS-mixed.
  • Effects of binge drinking on GI symptoms were strongest when comparing between individuals (rather than within individuals).

The authors concluded that these findings “indicate that IBS symptoms differ according to the pattern of alcohol intake among IBS patients, suggesting that the pattern of drinking may in part explain the inconsistent findings between alcohol and IBS symptoms.”

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