Of the total number of people suffering from problems associated with IBS, it is women who seem to be the most commonly affected – up to 30% of them experience symptoms such as cramps, pain, abnormal or irregular bowel movements. What is the cause of such a significant majority of female patients? And what is it that women with IBS are facing?
IBS-like symptoms around age 18: bloating, gassiness, diarrhea, constipation, smelly and excessive gas. At age 24, I started having severe stomach pains, elevated heart rate, and sinus pressure (upper and lower) about an hour after I ate anything. Vomiting or bowel movements sometimes helped. After attacks, I would be very cold and tired. I was also bloated, gassy, and oscillated between diarrhea and constipation. I had to give up a lot of things because of the condition, I understand how you feel if you are depressed or feel hopeless because it took so much from you.
Society places certain expectations on women – we supposed to be feminine, smell nice and look good. We also tend to put everyone else’s needs before our own, frequently postponing doctor’s appointments and often ignoring painful symptoms until those symptoms are starting to postpone our lives.
Either because of our upbringing, life experiences or uncaring partners (reasons can be endless, really) we can develop unhealthy inhibitions towards our own bodies and their natural functions. Normally a woman suffering from bloating and flatulence will often hold it in for as long as possible until she is alone, and why wouldn’t she? The embarrassment would be just too great to bear if she did otherwise. So, Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms connected with diarrhea (or constipation for that matter) are also often seen as an embarrassment rather than medical condition.
It sure fits well into society’s norm keeping our bowel movements a secret or holding it in during business meetings, but did you know that the shame experienced by women who suffer from gastrointestinal issues is so severe that on average, two out of ten will turn down being intimate with their partner just because of fear of unexpected flatulence?
According to research conducted by the British server Healthista in 2019, 41% of the more than 1500 women surveyed admitted that they have been suffering from symptoms of IBS for years without ever being diagnosed because they were too ashamed of discussing their continuous bowel problems with a doctor. It took 7% of women more than a year to be able to discuss their problems with their partners – bowel movements are not an issue which people discuss openly, and it is still a taboo for many.
The reason why IBS affects women more than men is not exactly clear. The culprit might be in the hormones – most patients did confirm that their illness is at its worst during their period.
Our environment, emotional state, and the long-term stress of having to balance multiple roles at the same time can affect the sensitivity of our nerves, especially those of the digestive tract, which has a significant impact on the digestive system. And from here it gets even more complicated, as the Vagus nerve (the “guy” responsible for regulation of our digestion, respiratory and heart rate) is connected to our brain.
So, if our digestive system is affected by specific factors (stress, hormones, lifestyle), it goes up the stem affecting our lungs, heart, and eventually brain; and that is why in the case of depression and anxiety, doctors should be paying a lot of attention to the patient’s gut health.
Finally, let’s not forget emotions. Thanks to hormones, women are more emotional than men, but just like men many of women tend to either supress or avoid their emotions altogether. And often we would rather eat half a tub of ice cream before admitting that we feel lonely, sad, upset or offended. There are many ways to deal with emotions and to begin with, it would be great to acknowledge and understand what bothers us and how to deal with it without getting the food involved.
Female IBS reality in numbers:
- 22% suffer from anxiety and depression caused by repeated intestinal troubles.
- 23% of women size up when buying clothing so they can hide their bloated stomach.
- 20% have refuse to go out because they felt bloated or were afraid of unexpected diarrhea.
Many believe that nothing can be done to help them which is partly true because IBS is a chronic condition. But even chronic conditions can be managed more effectively, giving the patient an overall better quality of life.
There are several ways to deal with the symptoms of IBS:
- Talk to your partner about your condition – a problem shared is a problem half solved, hiding health issues from your partner can affect your relationship not to mention your self-esteem and mental health.
- Taking good care of your gut is a must – avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and coffee. Smoking is a big enemy of our internal organs as well.
- Fresh meals are always better, so fast food and fizzy drinks are better to be replaced by simple homemade staples.
- Exercise is a way to go because it helps produce endorphins (neuropeptides) which reduce anxiety and help our bodies deal with pain and stress. Many people lack motivation to exercise, because of the wrong assumption that it has to be a hard workout or none at all. The reality is – we are all different and so are our bodies and choices, so for some people exercising could simply mean doing some yoga or taking a walk in the park or even a mall, and for others it could be something as extreme as abseiling! Whatever your circumstances are, just keep moving!
- If you suffer from cramps and diarrhea, take advantage of the adsorbing effects of Enterosgel®, a medical solution which adsorbs and removes toxins from the gut. Enterosgel® heals the intestinal lining and can be used even during pregnancy. What’s more – Enterosgel® alleviates pain and cramps almost instantly which in turn calms anxiety and elevates your mood.
- Don’t be part of the silent majority – talk to your doctor. Doctor can determine whether you are sensitive or allergic to certain foods, or medications that you take, and diagnose/eliminate any underlying conditions. Doctor can also do a specific IBS test (more info on that in our next article) which will confirm an IBS diagnosis and then decide on the appropriate treatment course.