Did you know that gender can affect GI symptoms and treatment recommendations? When it comes to GI health, “women are from Venus and men are from Mars” rings true as there are differences you should be aware of when it comes to your gender identity and biological sex.
Do you know that women are six times more likely to experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder characterized by symptoms including stomach pain, gas, bloating and diarrhea or constipation, than men?
Do you know the location of a woman’s female organs make the colon’s pathway longer and more complex? This can cause digestive organs to empty more slowly, leading to symptoms like bloating, constipation, nausea and gallstones.
The Major Ways that Gender Can Affect GI Symptoms and Treatment Recommendations
Hormones Play a Role in GI Health
A man and woman’s digestive tracts are not only physically different, but female-specific hormones can also have varying effects on your digestive system. Female hormones, primarily estrogen and progesterone, can also affect a woman’s overall gut health. Hormonal fluctuation or imbalance can impact the speed food moves through the intestines. In some cases, a change in hormone levels may cause food to pass through more quickly than usual, which can lead to diarrhea, nausea or stomach pain. In other instances, food moves slower, causing periods of constipation, gas or bloating.
Post-menopausal women commonly experience constipation as their progesterone levels begin to decrease. Women may also notice digestive changes due to their menstrual cycle, most commonly during the second half of their cycle, caused by an increase in progesterone and estrogen levels. The increase in hormones can cause varying degrees of stomach and digestive discomfort.
Other GI Issues Unique to Women
Other digestive differences commonly experienced by women include:
• An increased sensitivity in the throat and esophagus, leading to heartburn
• An increased sensitivity to certain medications, including aspirin and anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS), that can increase a woman’s risk of developing inflammation, ulcers or stomach bleeding
• Lower production of stomach acid, reducing the risk of developing ulcers
Let’s face it – not all gastrointestinal symptoms are the result of structural or hormonal differences. Some food allergies or underlying health conditions can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms.
Treatment for Women’s GI Issues
Just as causes and symptoms can vary for women so too can treatment options. If you are experiencing GI symptoms, it is important to consult your physician, no matter your sex or gender. While occasional heartburn might seem like a minor issue, when it becomes chronic, it can lead to dangerous complications.
Women at an average risk for colon cancer should also receive a colonoscopy beginning at age 45 to check for polyps or other abnormalities.