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Caitlin Marshall, M.D., addresses why women deal with some GI issues more often and discusses options for treatment available at USA Health’s Digestive Health Center.

Published May 31st, 2023

By Michelle Ryan

May is Women’s Health Month, a time to recognize health issues that are unique to or are commonly experienced by women.

For example, because their gastrointestinal systems are more crowded to share space with their reproductive organs and they tend to have recurring difficulties related to their menstrual cycles, female patients may experience certain common GI conditions more often than male patients as a result of their anatomy, physiology and hormones.

M. Caitlin Marshall, M.D., a gastroenterologist with USA Health’s Digestive Health Center and assistant professor of internal medicine at the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine, explains. “Most GI issues are not necessarily specific to females, but may be seen more commonly in females,” she said. “Constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and hemorrhoids are all very common in females.”

In many cases, over-the-counter medications can help treat or alleviate symptoms associated with these conditions. But if those don’t address the problems, Marshall recommends scheduling an appointment with a primary care provider or specialist.

For female patients who may not regularly experience GI issues, pregnancy can change things.

“Pregnancy can result in new GI issues or exacerbate existing problems,” she said.

Some of the issues during pregnancy can include nausea and vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea and constipation as a result of a growing baby creating even less space in the abdomen for the intestines, stomach and esophagus to function. Additionally, hormonal changes can affect digestion.

Hemorrhoids are another common issue caused by constipation, pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, heavy lifting, sitting for long periods, and diarrhea. The Digestive Health Center offers an innovative nonsurgical procedure that takes less than 10 minutes in the office.

“We provide in-office hemorrhoidal banding, which can help improve or resolve issues associated with internal hemorrhoids,” Marshall said.

The procedure involves inserting a small tube into the anal area. A piece of tissue above the hemorrhoid is suctioned and encircled with a rubber band.

The result is a decrease in the blood supply to the hemorrhoid, and within a few days, the hemorrhoid falls off and the natural scarring process draws the remaining hemorrhoid tissue back inside the anus.

The procedure requires no sedation and virtually no recovery time, unlike previous treatments that were painful and required up to three weeks of recovery.

Many GI issues women commonly experience can be addressed by lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise as well, she said.

“We recommend, in addition to making sure you are drinking plenty of water, that you consume enough daily fiber,” she said. “That’s about 25 to 30 grams a day through diet — fruits and vegetables or whole grains — or a fiber supplement like a powder or gummies.”

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