It’s no surprise that men and women are different. Men and women process information differently, have different emotional responses, and different ways of communicating. Our genetic makeup is also different which directly impacts our GI tracts. Because of this, women have a unique set of gastrointestinal issues and symptoms that differ from men. Better understanding them will only empower you to strengthen your GI health.
What’s The Difference?
In almost every area of the GI tract, from the mouth to the rectum, women have a greater sensitivity than men. From the first bite, women are able to taste bitter and sweet foods more clearly. The muscles in the esophagus function differently than men and the female esophageal sphincter is stronger. You can give yourself a pat on the back for that one, but know that there are a few negatives, too. In women, the stomach, colon, and gallbladder do not empty very quickly which can cause problems. Men and women also have different enzyme systems in the liver and small intestine which affects how medications are broken down and influence the type and amount of medication prescribed to women.
The esophageal sphincter acts as a door that opens to allow food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach and then closes to prevent food and stomach acid from returning. This protects the esophagus from damage caused by stomach acid. However, women do experience heartburn more intensely than men. If you experience heartburn, try limiting your consumption of spicy foods, caffeine, and acidic foods. Be cautious when eating a large meal and do not eat prior to lying down.
Gallbladder and Stomach Issues
Both gallbladder and stomach issues in women are affected by how slowly each empties. Gallstones are more common in women than men largely due to hormones. Gallbladder issues seem to affect pregnant women because of the hormonal fluctuation. Symptoms of gallstones include abdominal pain on the upper right side, nausea, and vomiting. A female stomach empties food slowly which may explain the bloating and nausea many women feel after a meal. Women should be cautious of developing a condition called gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying) and seek medical attention if you have symptoms of abdominal bloating, fullness, nausea, and weight loss. Women can also develop a condition known as gastritis which is inflammation of the stomach. This is caused by frequent use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over time, these drugs cause irritation in the stomach lining and may even create an ulcer.
Liver and Small Intestine Issues
The liver and small intestine contain a system of enzymes that break down medication. These systems function differently in men and women which can influence the way the medication is received. Women need to be more careful when taking medication and notice how a dosage affects them. In some cases, a small amount can have a major impact. Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns.
The greatest number of GI issues for women occur in the colon. Like the stomach and gallbladder, the colon also empties more slowly in women. This explains why more women suffer from constipation than men. Unfortunately, constipation only gets worse with age. Women also experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) two to six times more than men. IBS occurs when the bowel malfunctions either causing excessive diarrhea, constipation, or even a combination of the two. Bloating and abdominal pain accompany IBS and usually require diet and lifestyle changes to keep your symptoms at bay. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis fall under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and tend to affect women twice as much as men. IBD exposes itself through diarrhea, a bloody stool, anemia, and unintended weight loss. Another, more serious, disease that affects women is colon cancer. However, regular screenings can help protect you from a cancer diagnosis or prevent cancer from spreading.
Men are not exempt from these issues and diseases, but it’s important for women to be aware of any potential problems with their GI health. If you have concerns or are showing symptoms for any of the issues we discussed, schedule an appointment with Dr. Sameer Islam today.