How women’s digestive health differs from men’s

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Woman with abdominal pain.

When choosing a physician, patients routinely consider several factors: whether the physician is in network for insurance purposes, the location of the provider’s office and the credentials and reputation of the clinician.
But for women who are looking for a gastroenterologist, a physician who concentrates on the inner workings of the digestive system, it may be prudent to also consider whether your doctor specializes in gastrointestinal care for women.
“Years ago, it was assumed the gastrointestinal tracts of men and women worked the same,” says Dr. Emily Poland, a specialist in female gastroenterology at Tidelands Health Gastroenterology. “But studies have repeatedly shown that women’s GI tracks work a little bit differently from men’s.”
For example, studies have found that women are more likely to suffer from certain digestive issues, says Dr. Poland.
“Women tend to digest food slower,” Dr. Poland says. “That makes them more prone to symptoms of nausea and bloating.”
And due to hormone levels, women are also two to three times more susceptible to developing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
The esophagus, which connects your throat to your stomach, is another area where men and women tend to differ.
“The muscles in [women’s] esophagi tend to work harder or close tighter than men’s,” she says. “So women are more prone to feeling like something’s stuck in their throat or suffer from problems swallowing.”
Dr. Poland specializes in esophageal dysmotility, which is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to properly swallow.
She says knowing the symptoms and digestive disorders that tend to disproportionately affect women informs her approach to care.
“Women, whether due to hormonal changes, pregnancy, childbirth or other gender-related differences, tend to experience different gastrointestinal symptoms and conditions than men,” she says. “Recognizing those differences is important to developing the best possible care plan.”

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