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Digestive Health for Women

  • Understanding Your Digestive System

    Digestive health

    The digestive system starts from the mouth and ends with the rectum. It functions to absorb essential nutrients and remove waste from the body. Good digestion is essential for optimal health. Many common digestive problems in women such as bloating and constipation are often ignored.

    Minor problems that are left untreated may sometimes lead to more serious disorders. It is important to understand the common digestive problems and their symptoms so you can take the necessary actions to prevent future health complications.

  • Bloating

    Woman with bloating

    Bloating in the stomach area is uncomfortable and can be due to many reasons. Many conditions that cause bloating are benign and can be easily treated, but in certain cases, bloating may be caused by serious underlying disorders and even cancer.

    We explore the warning signs and symptoms that may indicate something ominous, as well as the common disorders associated with bloating.

    Signs & Symptoms

    Bloating in the stomach is a common condition, especially in women. However, bloating may indicate something more serious. Here are the warning signs and symptoms accompanying bloating that may indicate more severe illnesses:

    • Weight loss without any change in diet or exercise regimen
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Weight gain or a rapidly expanding waistline
    • Jaundice
    • Blood in stool
    • Vaginal bleeding in between periods
    • Fever

    If you experience bloating together with any of the above symptoms, consult your gastroenterologist immediately. At times, the symptoms may indicate a more serious illness such as cancer of the colon, ovary, uterus, stomach or liver. Early diagnosis and regular screening is important. Talk to your doctor to find out more.

    Diagnosis & Treatment

    Your gastroenterologist will look at your medical history and perform a physical examination. If necessary, diagnostic tests or endoscopy may be prescribed for an accurate diagnosis.

    Treatment varies depending on diagnosis, and your gastroenterologist may prescribe medication or recommend lifestyle changes to treat digestive disorders. In more severe cases, surgical intervention may be required. Talk to your gastroenterologist to find out more.

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

    Woman with IBS

    Irritable bowel syndrome, or known as IBS, is a common gut disorder affecting twice as many women compared to men, often occurring in people below age 45. IBS affects the large intestine, disrupting bowel movement and resulting in discomfort in the abdominal area. In this section, we look at the common signs and symptoms of IBS, and the treatment options available.

    Signs & Symptoms

    Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms vary among individuals. The common symptoms include:

    • Pain or discomfort that improves after a bowel movement
    • Bloating and flatulence
    • Loose stools
    • Diarrhoea
    • Constipation
    • Changes in stool appearance
    • Feeling of incomplete bowel movement

    People with IBS often suffer from other gastrointestinal disorders, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome or anxiety. If you experience any of the above symptoms, talk to your gastroenterologist to find out more. Regular screenings will help to diagnose your condition early and prevent further complications.

    Diagnosis & Treatment

    Your gastroenterologist will examine your medical history, including allergies and lifestyle habits. The following tests may be conducted:

    • Endoscopy
    • Colonoscopy
    • X-ray
    • Blood tests
    • Stool tests

    Treatment varies across individuals depending on the severity of the condition. At times, lifestyle changes may be recommended, such as lowering stress levels and avoiding caffeine, smoking and alcohol. Talk to your gastroenterologist to find out more.

    References:

    Grundmann O, Yoon SL. Irritable bowel syndrome: epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment: an update for health-care practitioners. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2010;25:691–699.

  • Gastritis

    Woman with gastritis

    Gastritis occurs when the stomach lining is inflamed. This could be due to numerous reasons such as excessive alcohol use, taking certain medication, chronic vomiting or stress. In most cases, gastritis is due to infection of the bacteria helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) which, if left untreated, may lead to stomach ulcers and cancer. In this section, we explore the symptoms of gastritis and when to seek treatment.

    Signs & Symptoms

    Symptoms of gastritis differ between individuals and may occur suddenly (acute gastritis) or persist over a period of time (chronic gastritis). Common symptoms include:

    • Abdominal bloating
    • Abdominal pain
    • Indigestion
    • Nausea
    • Burning feeling in stomach between meals or at night
    • Black, tarry stools
    • Loss of appetite
    • Vomiting

    If you have the above symptoms, talk to your gastroenterologist. With prompt diagnosis and proper treatment and care, it is possible to manage the condition.

    Diagnosis & Treatment

    Your gastroenterologist may check your medical history and recommend one of the following tests:

    • Stool test
    • Breath test
    • Endoscopy
    • Fecal occult blood test

    Treatment for gastritis usually involves medication and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding hot and spicy foods. Consult your gastroenterologist to work out a treatment plan customised to your individual needs.

  • Exercise & Gastrointestinal Disorders

    Exercise and gastrointestinal disorders

    Various myths and misconceptions surround the issue of exercise in individuals diagnosed with digestive disorders. For example, many people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are reluctant to engage in regular exercise for fear of making their symptoms worse. However, for this group of people, engaging in a regular exercise regime brings along many benefits. Exercise helps to improve intestinal movement and low-intensity sports such as brisk walking or jogging helps with constipation. Here are some tips on exercise for individuals with gastrointestinal disorders:

    1. If you experience bloating, the recommendation would be to avoid very strenuous exercises that result in heavy breathing. Taking medication prescribed for bloating prior to such exercises is usually helpful.
    2. If you experience diarrhoea, it would be best to avoid consuming caffeine or solid food prior to exercise. In addition, prior planning is recommended to have a route that includes toilet facilities.
    3. For individuals experiencing gastroesophageal reflux, avoid exercises that cause sudden or significant increase of intra-abdominal pressure such as abdominal crunches, heavy weightlifting or contact sports. Eating should be more than 2 hours prior to exercise, and the individual should avoid oily/fried foods, caffeine, alcohol, large meals, peppermint and tomatoes.

    For a better quality of life, it is important to consult your gastroenterologist to learn how you can manage gastrointestinal disorders and while maintaining an active lifestyle.

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