In case you haven’t noticed, men and women are not the same. Although the struggle for equality in the workplace and in society is a constant, the truth is, men and women are physiologically different. Like all things in nature, the differences between men and women can create balance and harmony.
So, what shouldn’t come as a surprise, but often does, is that the bodies of men and women respond differently to the same medical conditions. Furthermore, some conditions are more prevalent in women than in men, particularly gastrointestinal (GI) diseases and conditions. In these circumstances, men and women may present with a completely different set of symptoms when dealing with the same disorder.
Women, in general, have a more sensitive GI tract than men, starting with how they taste food and ending with how food empties through the colon. These biological differences have their purpose, but all point to the fact that GI diseases are more prevalent in women than in men. One positive difference is that women secrete less stomach acid into their esophagus than men do, because the muscle that controls the flow of food from the esophagus to the stomach is stronger in women than in men.
Although there is less overall damage to a woman’s esophagus, women do experience higher rates of heartburn. Women tend to be more sensitive to irritants, such as those found in coffee or spicy foods, which is why heartburn may be felt more strongly in women.
Women also empty food more slowly from their stomach than men. This process can lead to a condition called gastroparesis, or delayed gastric emptying. Gastroparesis affects the normal movement of stomach muscles and can lead to bloating, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss.
Gastritis is another condition that affects women more often than men. Gastritis is a term used for a group of conditions that cause an inflammation or erosion of the stomach lining. One of the causes of gastritis is the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). While both men and women take NSAIDs, women are more likely to take these medications for menstrual cramps or headaches caused by hormonal fluctuations. Over time, these drugs may lead to irritation and even bleeding ulcers.
Three other conditions more likely to affect women than men are irritable bowel disease (IBD), which includes both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); and colon cancer. IBS is two to six times more prevalent in women than men, IBD is twice as prevalent, and colon cancer is the number three cause of cancer in American women. Again, this may be associated with the hormonal changes women experience as they age. Constant bouts of diarrhea or constipation, gas, and abdominal pain are key symptoms that may be an indicator of something clinically significant.
All of these conditions can be addressed and alleviated through communication with your doctor and proper diet, exercise, and stress reduction. Being aware is the first step.