Gastrointestinal Problems Often Misdiagnosed in Women

Happy doctor with drug and patient on bed at clinicContributed by Nathan Schmulewitz, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine

You aren’t feeling well and you hope a trip to the doctor will calm your worries. Certain symptoms can represent so many different conditions, it might even be hard to know what type of doctor or specialist to see.

CNN recently identified 15 conditions that are well-known for being misdiagnosed during outpatient visits. For women this is especially frustrating because menstrual and gastrointestinal issues can have similar symptoms. Here are some examples:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – this is actually a set of multiple disorders involving abnormal squeezing and/or sensitivity of the large intestine and they often are associated with abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation. Usually the patient’s description of symptoms and several tests can help to discriminate different forms of IBS and appropriate treatments.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – two main types of this disease, Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis cause inflammation of the digestive tract, pain, diarrhea, and possible malnutrition. Typically, colonoscopy and/or radiology tests can help make the diagnosis.
  • Bloating – any abnormal general swelling of the abdominal area. Many women suffer from bloating especially around their menstrual cycle or after eating. A number of things can cause mild to severe bloating but bloating shouldn’t be ignored if it persists. Serious bloating, occasionally, can be a sign of a small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, chronic constipation, IBD, liver disease or even ovarian cancer.
  • Celiac disease – an immune reaction to gluten (protein composite found in wheat) that triggers inflammation in the small intestine. This disease can cause itchy skin, headaches, joint pain, acid reflux or heartburn, diarrhea and weight loss. A blood test can usually diagnose this disease no matter what symptoms are present and an endoscopy can determine if any damage has been done to the small intestine. Interestingly, many patients will have symptoms related to gluten without an actual immune reaction or even intestinal injury.

You know your body best. Listen to it and don’t be afraid to question your doctor if your given treatments aren’t helping you get well. Experts in gastrointestinal conditions at UC Health’s Women’s Center work closely with patients and other providers to achieve accurate diagnoses. For more information about our specialty care or to schedule an appointment, call (513) 475-UC4U (8248).

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