Women: Prioritize Gut Health

Women’s Health Week is a good time to check in on your GI health

It’s no secret that it can be hard for women to find the time for self-care. 

What you may find more surprising is the increased prevalence of certain gastrointestinal (GI) conditions among women. Given the important role your intestine plays in your immune system and your overall health, National Women’s Health Week, which begins May 8, is a great reminder for women of all ages to prioritize their gut health.

Q&A about women’s GI health and issues

Below, Dr. Teresa Yanchak, one of the physicians at our GI practice in Colorado Springs, weighs in on the unique challenges women face when it comes to GI issues. She explains why gut health should be a priority during Women’s Health Month, and beyond.

Are GI issues more prevalent in women?

There are multiple GI issues that occur more commonly in women. These include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), gallstones, autoimmune liver disease, celiac disease and pelvic floor dysfunction. Additionally, women commonly require individualized GI treatment with regard to fertility and pregnancy.

Why do some GI issues affect women more than men?

There are a number of reasons why women may be more impacted by gastrointestinal issues than men. The uterus and ovaries are very close to the colon and small intestine. The menstrual cycle, hormonal changes throughout a woman’s lifetime, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause can all impact GI symptoms. 

For women who have had surgeries in the pelvis, such as cesarean section, ovarian surgery and hysterectomy, those all have the potential to alter GI symptoms. Pregnancy and vaginal deliveries also increase the risk of pelvic floor dysfunction over time. All of these factors can contribute to GI symptoms including abdominal pain, constipation, lack of bowel control, hemorrhoids and pelvic organ prolapse.

Are there differences in colon cancer screening for women?

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer among women in the U.S. Most men and women should begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 45. However, you may need a colonoscopy sooner if you have a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps, or a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Additionally, there are familial colon cancer syndromes that can be associated with uterine, ovarian and breast cancers. Be sure to let your health care provider know if you have a family history of these cancers. 

Colonoscopy in women requires special considerations. Women are more likely to have colon polyps distributed higher in the colon. Additionally, the female colon is typically more challenging to scope due to the anatomically deeper pelvis, increased prevalence of adhesions, or scar tissue, from prior pelvic surgeries, and tighter flexures (or turns). However, colonoscopy is the best available screening test for colon cancer in most women.

What are the most significant barriers to women’s health? How can women manage and overcome these?

Finding a health care provider who you communicate well with is key. Quality GI care for women involves active listening and taking into account the unique differences between men and women to formulate a diagnostic plan. Women should try to find a gastroenterologist with whom they feel comfortable openly discussing their symptoms. They should also feel comfortable requesting a female provider if that is preferable to them.

Making GI health a priority for women

Associates in Gastroenterology joins with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in encouraging women and girls to make their health a priority. As the CDC states in promoting National Women’s Health Week, “Preventive care can keep disease away or detect problems early so that treatment is more effective. Protect your health by identifying the care you may need.”

Make your gut health a priority today – request an appointment with a gastroenterologist who specializes in treating women’s digestive disorders supporting your GI health.