Patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID) often experience emotional distress, a perceived lack of validation, and an unsatisfactory experience with health care providers. A health care provider can provide the patient with a framework in which to understand and legitimize their symptoms, remove self-doubt or blame, and identify factors that contribute to symptoms that the patient can influence or control. This framework can be strengthened with the consideration of various important factors that impact FGID but are often overlooked. These include gender, age, society, culture, and the patient's perspective. There is evidence for sex- and gender-related differences in FGID, particularly irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Whereas the majority of FGID, including IBS, bloating, constipation, chronic functional abdominal pain, and pelvic floor dysfunction, are more prevalent in women than men, functional esophageal and gastroduodenal disorders do not appear to vary by gender. Limited studies suggest that sex differences in visceral perception, cardioautonomic responses, gastrointestinal motility, and brain activation patterns to visceral stimuli exist in IBS. Gender differences in social factors, psychological symptoms, and response to psychological treatments have not been adequately studied. However, there appears to be a greater clinical response to serotonergic agents developed for IBS in women compared to men. The impact of social and cultural factors on the meaning, expression, and course of FGID are important. The prevalence of IBS appears to be lower in non-Western than Western countries. Although further studies are needed, the existing literature suggests that they are important to consider from both research and clinical perspectives.
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