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Digestive & Gut 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. Digestive and gut health refers to the smooth functioning of the entire digestive system. Good digestive health allows you to obtain adequate nutrition and remove unwanted waste.

    Some gastrointestinal disorders affect women more commonly than men. Examples of these conditions include irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and gallstones. Pregnant women are also prone to experiencing nausea and reflux.

    Many common digestive problems in women such as bloating and constipation are often ignored. These symptoms are often mild, or they may come and go. However, 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.

  • Why is Gut Health Important?

    Women's digestive health importance

    Gut health contributes to optimal health and overall well-being. Having a healthy gut allows you to enjoy the food you eat and receive the nutrients you need.

    Common digestive symptoms such as indigestion, constipation, acid reflux, stomach pain or bloating, although usually mild, often interfere with daily activities and may restrict the types of food you can eat. At times, these symptoms may be early signs of something serious and should not be taken lightly. If left untreated, serious complications may arise. Identifying and treating digestive health problems early is vital to a smooth and speedy recovery.

  • What Affects Gut Health?

    What affects women's digestive health

    Gut health is greatly affected by diet and lifestyle. Some habits that are harmful to our gut include:

    • Chronic high stress
    • Dehydration or lack of adequate water intake
    • Drinking too much alcohol
    • Having a diet that is high in processed, fatty or sugary food
    • Lack of exercise
    • Sleep deprivation
    • Smoking

    Other factors that can affect our gut health include genetics, gut infections, and intake of antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill the good bacteria in the gut, which may also lead to diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. The use of prebiotics or probiotics can help improve our gut health by increasing the good bacteria in the gut.

  • Bloated Stomach

    Woman with bloating

    Bloating is often uncomfortable, and can be due to many reasons. The sensation is akin to having a swollen or gassy stomach. Bloating usually occurs after eating and is often accompanied by pain in the abdomen, burping, abdominal rumbling, and excessive passage of gas.

    Most causes of a bloated stomach are benign and can be easily treated. In certain cases, however, 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.

    Causes of bloating

    A common cause of bloating is having too much gas in the digestive tract. This may occur when too much air is swallowed due to eating habits such as eating or drinking too quickly, chewing gum, eating while talking, drinking through a straw, or the consumption of carbonated beverages. Some types of food such as beans and lentils can also produce excess gas while it is being broken down in the digestive tract.

    Other causes of bloating include:

    • Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
    • Crohn’s disease
    • Constipation
    • Cancer of the stomach or intestines
    • Food intolerance, such as lactose intolerance or coeliac disease
    • Gynaecologic problems such as endometriosis
    • Indigestion, usually from eating too much food or drinking too much alcohol
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
    • Premenstrual syndrome
    • Slow emptying of the stomach (called gastroparesis), often due to diabetes mellitus or hypothyroidism
    • Stomach infections

    Signs & symptoms of bloating

    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 are important. Talk to your doctor to find out more.

    Diagnosis & treatment of bloating

    Most cases of bloating can often be relieved using simple home remedies. Some of these remedies include:

    • Applying a heat pad to the stomach
    • Avoiding certain foods, such as dairy or carbonated beverages
    • Drinking warm water
    • Eating peppermint
    • Gentle massage of the abdomen
    • Going for a walk
    • Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet
    • Over-the-counter antacids or anti-gas medications such as simethicone
    • Reducing the amount of salt in your diet
    • Taking a warm bath

    If you are frequently troubled by bloating, or if you have any warning signs and symptoms, it is best to consult a doctor. 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 the diagnosis, and your gastroenterologist may prescribe medication or recommend lifestyle changes to treat the digestive disorder. 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.

    Signs & symptoms of IBS

    Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome vary among individuals. 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 of IBS

    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.


    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 of gastritis

    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 of gastritis

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

    • Stool test
    • Breath test
    • Endoscopy
    • Faecal 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.

  • Myths and Misconceptions About 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 done more than 2 hours prior to exercise, and the individual should avoid oily/fried foods, caffeine, alcohol, large meals, peppermint and tomatoes.

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

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