Hot flashes and night sweats aren’t the only unpleasant symptoms you might have while going through menopause. The hormonal transition can also affect your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, because your hormones play a big role in the way your body digests food,
Understanding how hormones affect the GI tract and our ability to digest certain foods can help you prepare for potential changes to your digestion.
How Hormones Affect GI Health
Many women experience bloating, abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits before and during their periods, as well as during perimenopause (the time period leading up to menopause) and menopause. The culprit: Decreases in the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Some women might be more sensitive than others to hormone-related digestive changes. This may include those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastrointestinal disorders characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Hormonal fluctuations during menopause may make these symptoms worse. The good news? They may stablilize or even improve once a woman is fully through menopause and hormones have leveled out.
GI Issues During Menopause
Decreasing amounts of estrogen and progesterone during menopause can slow down the process of food passing through the GI system. When the digestive process takes longer, more water is reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, which can lead to constipation, increased gas and bloating.
Your ability to digest food may also be affected by changes to your gallbladder that can accompany loss of estrogen and progesterone. The gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver. Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels during menopause can cause bile to become more concentrated, slowing the emptying of the gallbladder. Gallstones or other gallbladder problems may happen as a result.
Digestive issues during menopause can occur in the upper GI tract (the mouth, esophagus, stomach and first part of the small intestine) and the lower GI tract (from the small intestine to the large intestine to the anus). These issues include:
● Acid reflux
● Abdominal cramping
What Can Help?
Women who are dealing with GI issues during menopause don’t have to go it alone. If you find that digestive distress is interfering with your quality of life or are otherwise concerned about your symptoms, ask your doctor about seeing a GI specialist who may be able to help you manage issues like constipation, gas and bloating.
You should also make sure that you’re getting regular colonoscopies to screen for precancerous or cancerous growths called polyps. Post-menopausal women have an increased risk for colon cancer, so keeping up with regular periodic screening, especially if you have a family history of GI cancers or polyps, is essential.
Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following:
● Change in bowel habits
● Rectal bleeding
● Family history of GI cancer
● Unintentional weight loss
● Increase in abdominal girth (extreme bloating)
Above all, don’t let shame or embarrassment prevent you from seeking support. What you’re experiencing is perfectly normal, and there are things you can do to feel better.
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