What Are The Common Digestive Problems in Women? | Gastroenterology

Digestive Problems in Women

Overview

Stomach aches, gas, heartburn and other digestion issues can be uncomfortable, but fortunately, they usually don’t cause concern. Sometimes, though, these symptoms may signal a more serious health condition.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). Even though this condition affects the large intestine, it does not damage either intestine. Instead, it affects the way the digestive tract functions. IBS, as it’s commonly called, causes a group of symptoms including, cramping, stomach pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea and constipation. Menstrual cycles also play a role in IBS for women as symptoms often become worse just before or at the start of a woman’s period.

There are different types of IBS. Only one of the patients is diagnosed with IBS, but all three usually cause abdominal pain and discomfort but differ in bowel movements.

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C) causes abnormally delayed or infrequent bowel movements, which are often hard stools.
  • IBS (IBS-D) with diarrhoea is the opposite of IBS-C. This type of IBS can sometimes cause an urgent need for unusually frequent bowel movements. Stools are usually soft and liquid.
  • IBS with alternating constipation and diarrhoea is a combination of IBS-C and IBS-D. People with this type of IBS often experience an equal mix of constipation and diarrhoea.
  • Indigestion from IBS affects the upper GI tract.

IBS is often described as a “complex” disorder because the cause is unknown and the symptoms are unpredictable. Symptoms can be persistent or disappear in a few months and suddenly appear worse than before. Some IBS patients also show symptoms after eating certain foods or due to stress. Lifestyle changes, nutritional changes, medications (over-the-counter or prescription), and talking to your doctor about your symptoms can often help control IBS symptoms.

Living with IBS

Living with any digestive disorder, especially IBS, is not easy and you will live your life. Learning to manage your symptoms can help you lead a more normal life. Try these steps to control your IBS.

  • Find an experienced and supportive doctor. You need a doctor who is experienced in treating irritable bowel syndrome so that you can receive a proper diagnosis and maintain good digestive care.
  • Know your triggers. Some foods and drinks such as dairy products, chocolate, caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and spicy foods can exacerbate symptoms.
  • Do not eat large meals or foods that you are familiar with that can trigger IBS before leaving home, especially if you have IBS-D. Finding nearby bathrooms is also a good idea.
  • Try to reduce stress through regular exercise or relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Our Integrative Medicine offers personalized plans to help with specialized classes and relaxation.

Gallstones

This is another common digestive problem that women develop more often than men. They are made up of crystalline pieces, hardened cholesterol, that are formed in the gallbladder. This process occurs if there is too much cholesterol in the bile (produced by the liver) or if the gallbladder is not empty or not enough. In size, even very small for a golf ball, gallstones can cause multiple symptoms such as right abdominal pain (sometimes severe), nausea or vomiting, fever, yellowish skin or eyes, and clay-coloured stools after eating. Some people develop gallstones and never know it because they are asymptomatic.

As with IBS, there are no defined causes for gallstones, and emptying of the gallbladder occurs more often in women than in men, similar to IBS, and due to slower emptying of the stomach and estrogen.

Estrogen is a female hormone that raises cholesterol levels in the bile and reduces the motility of the gallbladder. This effect is even more pronounced in pregnant women because estrogen levels are still high and that explains why women often develop gallstones during or after pregnancy. Women who take birth control pills or hormonal therapies for menopause are more likely to develop gallstones due to the addition of estrogen.

So what can be done to reduce the risk of gallstones? Whether you are a man or a woman, we recommend the following:

  • Check your weight.
  • Don’t skip meals.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Get regular exercise.

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