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When it comes to gastrointestinal health, many women feel shy to talk about their symptoms. But some of the most common conditions have much better outcomes when caught early. Here are some key facts to know about your gut health.
Take proactive measures
Two of the most common gastrointestinal problems are acid reflux and gallbladder disease, says Paul Levy, DO, FACOS, general surgeon with Kettering Medical Group. “And even though slightly more men than women get colon cancer, preventative care is still extremely important for women,” says Dr. Levy. “There’s sometimes a perception that colon health is more of a male problem, but it’s not. It’s important for everyone.”
One of the most crucial things you can do is to take proactive measures for your health. Gastric or stomach ulcers and acid reflux are all impacted by dietary choices and by having generally healthy habits. “Limit stress, limit alcohol consumption, don’t smoke, and keep your BMI in a healthy range,” says Dr. Levy. “When you have more pressure on the mid-section, your stomach fluids need to go somewhere. This can lead to reflux.”
All the same healthy lifestyle choices apply to preventing gallbladder disease. Some risk factors can’t be modified, such as being female and having a history of pregnancies. However, avoiding greasy and fatty foods and following a healthy lifestyle can lower risk. “When people feel nauseated after eating, they don’t immediately think it’s a disease,” says Dr. Levy. “But untreated gallbladder disease can progress and cause other serious health problems. If you start having discomfort that you can’t shake, don’t sit on that for a long period of time without seeing a doctor.”
Signs to watch out for
General discomfort and heartburn are some of the classic, well-known symptoms of acid reflux. But there are some lesser-known symptoms to be aware of as well. Dry cough, recurrent sinus infections, and even dental problems can all point to ulcers and reflux.
With gallbladder disease, some of the most common symptoms include discomfort after eating, bloating, pain in the upper right side of the belly, and severe pressure in the chest. “With gallbladder disease, the risk profile is much better if you deal with it as soon as you know about it,” says Dr. Levy. “You really don’t want to ignore symptoms.”
Women who experience any of these symptoms frequently should schedule an appointment with their primary care provider. Primary care providers can conduct initial evaluations and provide referrals to other specialists as necessary.
“Gastrointestinal problems in general are not clear-cut,” Dr. Levy notes. “You can have 10 different diseases that have similar symptoms, so it’s really important not to try to self-diagnose. If you’re having recurring symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor.”