From bloating and heartburn to chronic constipation, gastrointestinal issues are a common health concern for many people. However, recent studies show that women are more likely to experience these issues than men.
So what’s with the gender bias?
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, hormonal fluctuations, stress, and diet are a few of the factors that contribute to the higher prevalence of gastrointestinal issues among women.
What are common symptoms of gastrointestinal issues?
Gastrointestinal issues refer to any problems or discomfort that affect the digestive system. This can include symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain
Why are gastrointestinal issues more common in women?
When it comes to the digestive system, there are many physiological and hormonal differences between women and men. If you are a female and experience digestive discomfort more than you like, one or more of the following reasons could be to blame.
GI issues? Blame it on the hormones.
Women experience hormonal fluctuations throughout their menstrual cycle, and those changes can affect the digestive system. For example, the hormone progesterone, which rises during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, can cause constipation by slowing down the movement of food through the digestive tract. Similarly, estrogen has been shown to affect gut mobility and can contribute to symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain.
A woman’s digestive system has to work harder.
Even though the function of the digestive system is the same in men and women, there are anatomical differences that could be to blame for the prevalence of GI issues in women.
- In women, the ring of muscles that block food from passing back up the esophagus (the lower esophageal sphincter) shuts more tightly than that of a man.
- Women tend to generate less stomach.
- A woman’s stomach empties at a much slower rate.
- A woman’s large intestine is approximately ten centimeters longer than a man’s.
- In a woman’s body, the GI organs are in the same space as the reproductive organs.
Feeling stressed? So is your digestive system.
Stress is another factor that can contribute to gastrointestinal issues, and studies show that women are more likely to experience stress than men. According to the American Psychological Associated, women are more likely than men to report feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out. Stress can affect the digestive system in several ways, including increasing inflammation in the gut and altering the balance of gut bacteria.
Your diet impacts your digestive system.
Diet is also a significant factor in gastrointestinal health, and studies show that women may be more susceptible to certain dietary triggers. For example, women are more likely to develop lactose intolerance than men, which can lead to symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea. Additionally, women may be more sensitive to certain food additives and preservatives, which can contribute to gastrointestinal issues.
Which Gastrointestinal Issues are More Common in Women?
While gastrointestinal issues can affect anyone, studies show that women are more likely to experience certain GI problems than men. If fact, there are several digestive diseases and concerns that impact women more often.
A few of the most common GI issues women experience include:
- Constipation – Constipation occurs when stool becomes hard and difficult to pass. Women are three times more likely to experience constipation than men.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Studies show that women experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) at tow to size times the rate of men. IBS is a condition that impacts the small bowel and colon. Symptoms include stomach pain or cramps, which are usually worse after eating and can be relieved by a bowel movement.
- Celiac Disease – Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease where consuming gluten results in damage to the small intestines.
- Gastroparesis – Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and bloating could be related to a condition called gastroparesis. This condition occurs more commonly in men than women and results from the stomach failing to empty fast enough.
- Gallstones – Gallstones occur when solid material forms in the gallbladder or common bile duct. Made of cholesterol or other substances found in the gallbladder, gallstones may occur as one large stone or as many small ones and vary from the size of a golf ball to a grain of sand.
- Severe Heartburn – While women are less likely to have heartburn (acid reflux) than men, their symptoms tend to be more severe than their male counterparts.
How Can Women Maintain a Healthy Gut and Digestive System?
Maintaining healthy habits can keep your digestive system functioning properly and in good shape. Here are a few things you can do to help improve your GI issues, as well as your overall health:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise daily
- Drink adequate amounts of water
- Consume foods that are high in fiber
- Eliminate processed foods
- Handle stress in healthy ways
- Eat lighter meals more frequently
- Schedule regular appointments with your primary care provider and gastroenterologist
If you or a member of your family have been struggling with uncomfortable and painful gastrointestinal symptoms, it may be time to talk with your primary care physician.
Don’t have an established primary care provider? Find one near you in Archobld’s primary care network across South Georgia.