If you suffer from acid reflux (GERD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and feel embarrassed when you need to run to the bathroom or pop a Pepto, there's good/bad news: you're not alone. Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases affect 60 to 70 million Americans annually, and a new study by consumer digital health care company Amino found that women are diagnosed with stomach conditions almost twice as often as men.
Amino analyzed data from over 4.7 million people and found that women make up more than 70 percent of IBS and Celiacs disease diagnoses, 68 percent of gallstones, and close to 60 percent of GERD diagnoses.
Each of these diseases is different, so it's difficult to come up with a single explanation for this rise, Maneesh Singh, M.D., a third-year fellow in gastroenterology at UCSF said in the Amino release. "There is some evidence to support a slight female predominance in a disease such as Crohn's, for instance, and this could be attributed to hormone changes."
For gallstones specifically, Amino reports that the higher diagnosis rate for women may be due to estrogen, which raises cholesterol levels in the bile and slows gallbladder movement. A rise in estrogen (from things like pregnancy or birth control pills) can mean an increased likelihood of developing gallstones. A March 2015 study also found that the nerve cells controlling intestinal food movement are more sluggish in response to brain inputs in women than in men. (Yeah, but we live longer.)
If you're suffering from one of these conditions or your digestion doesn't feel quite right, your best choice is to see a doc. But there are common causes of stomach distress: being overweight, popping OTC remedies like Pepto or Tums instead of watching what you eat, stress, chewing too much gum, or eating too much fruit. Lactose or gluten intolerance are big culprits as well, which is why some helpful IBS treatments can include elimination diets (dropping soy, dairy, nuts, sugar, gluten, etc. from your diet to see how your body reacts) or a low-FODMAP diet (a diet that's low in a specific type of poorly digested and fermentable sugar).
In fact, according to Amino's study, people diagnosed with IBS and GERD are way more likely to also suffer from lactose intolerance, gassiness, indigestion, Celiac's disease, constipation, and other issues. (FYI, you could just be bloated. Try cutting out these foods to avoid it in the future.)
Screening for things like colon cancer is a good preventative step. And while we might be suffering from more general GI issues than men, we're also better at getting screened for colon cancer, and seeing our doctor about digestive symptoms. So, score.