Women's GI Health
Doctors at Penn understand how digestive disorders
uniquely affect women. Gastrointestinal (GI)
disorders including constipation, diarrhea, gastroesophageal
reflux disease (GERD) and irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS) disrupt and interfere with the daily activities
and quality of life of many women.
general, the GI tracts of women and men are the
same. However, women suffer from disorders unique
to hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy and delivery.
"One difference between men and women is the
colon. Occasionally colonoscopies are
more difficult to perform in women, due to a
slightly longer bowel and women tend to have
more abdominal surgeries (Caesarean
sections and hysterectomies)
than men that may cause adhesions or scar tissue,"
Linevsky, MD a gastroenterologist
at Penn. She recommends women begin screening for colon
cancer at age 50 and earlier if there
is a family history of the disease or they are
experiencing warning signs, such as a change
in bowel habits, blood
in the stool or stomach
Women are also more susceptible to pelvic floor
disorders, primarily from pregnancy and childbearing.
floor dysfunction/prolapse of the uterus
is usually caused by pregnancy and childbirth,
which may also affect the pelvic muscles and
how they perform after childbirth.
Hormonal fluctuations may intensify or diminish
symptoms of certain GI disorders. Dr. Linevsky
notes that many women suffering from inflammatory
bowel disease (IBD) find relief from their symptoms
while they are pregnant, while women who have
never suffered from IBD may experience initial
symptoms during pregnancy.
Dr. Linevsky states the two most common GI disorders
she sees in women are acid
reflux and IBS. Many
women taking bisphosphonates (bone-growth supplements
like Fosomax® and Boniva® to counteract
osteoporosis) experience intense reflux symptoms
and she has heard complaints from women taking
these drugs that the reflux began when they started
taking the medication.
Fortunately, there are ways to maintain healthy
GI function and alleviate digestive health problems.
Not smoking, exercising and eating a nutritious
diet that is low in fat and high in vegetables,
fiber and calcium are all good ways to keep the
digestive tract healthy.
"Most GI disorders are highly treatable and
women should be proactive in screening for certain
digestive disorders and take control of their
digestive health," says Dr. Linevsky. She encourages
women to seek medical attention and adopt healthy
lifestyles promoting wellness and prevention.
See also: Penn
Digestive System Illustration
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