According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 70 million Americans are affected by digestive disorders. Harvard gastroenterologist J. Wolf has just released her new book, A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Stomach and explains that women are particular vulnerable to digestive problems. The problem is, stomach and bowel problems are embarrassing and cause many women to ignore potentially serious problems.
As the author explains, this shame and reluctance to seek help—or the tendency to seek it too late—have real-life repercussions. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than seventy million Americans suffer from digestive diseases. In 2004 more than 236,000 Americans died from digestive ailments. Over half of the deaths were due to cancer—colorectal cancer accounting for almost 40 percent of all cancer deaths. And in many of these cases, deaths could have been prevented if routine screening had been done and treatment had been sought at the outset of symptoms. In the United States, Canada and Northern Europe, women are more than twice as likely as men to seek the advice of physicians for changes in bowel function. In my gastroenterology practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, 70 percent of my patients are women. And almost universally, these women feel alone and scared. There's no road map, no resource to reassure them that they're not imagining their problems or that they're going to be okay.
Instead, symptoms mean fear: Could my bloating mean cancer? Could my endometriosis mean that I can't get pregnant? I often find myself in the role of psychologist as much as gastroenterologist. And my message for the afflicted woman is this: you're not alone!
Wolf covers diet and lifestyle choices that cause or contribute to relatively minor problems; warning signs of serious conditions; the myriad available tests, treatments and medications; impact of digestive disorders on pregnant women; and links between such disorders, PMS, and endometriosis. Wolf's accessible q&a format, personal stories, easygoing humor, and practical concern for tight budgets and work schedules will relieve much of the anxiety and shame that, she says, prevent many women from seeking appropriate medical care.