The GI tract in women can be different compared to men. For example, women are called “supertasters,” and their stomach and large intestine seem to empty more slowly.
The most common GI issues in women are:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Dyspepsia (indigestion).
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a functional condition of the GI tract that affects the large intestine.
- Chronic constipation.
- Symptomatic hemorrhoids.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Colon cancer – the third most common cancer.
Symptoms vary depending on each condition, and include:
- GERD – heartburn and regurgitation.
- Dyspepsia – upper abdominal pain, bloating, nausea and fullness of the stomach.
- IBS – abdominal pain or cramps, either diarrhea or constipation, or a combination of both.
- Chronic constipation – infrequent stools, hard or lumpy stools, straining. Leads to symptomatic hemorrhoids that itch, bleed and swell, and cause pain, burning and prolapse. Twice as common in women, and may increase with age. It is also common during pregnancy because of hormonal changes leading to slower emptying from the large intestine.
- IBD – bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, anemia and weight loss. Also twice as common in women.
- Colon cancer – unexplained iron deficiency, obvious blood in stool, dark stool, change in bowel habits, and unexplained abdominal pain and/or unusual weight loss.
Treatment varies based on the type of condition. For example, functional GI disorders are treated by managing symptoms with over-the-counter or prescription medications, dietary modification, stress relaxation and exercise. Symptomatic hemorrhoids can be managed successfully with nonsurgical techniques, such as hemorrhoid ligation, performed in your doctor’s office. This procedure is quick, painless and does not involve anesthesia. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are the key in managing IBD.
Rohini Reddy Vanga, MD, with Alamance Gastroenterology – Burlington, a member of Cone Health Medical Group, is board certified in internal medicine, gastroenterology (GI) and hepatology. She completed medical school at Ghandi Medical College, India, and her residency in internal medicine at Washington Hospital Center/Georgetown University. She completed her fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine in gastroenterology and hepatology, her fellowship in celiac disease at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School and an advanced fellowship in inflammatory bowel disease at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.