Can’t stomach those digestive problems anymore?
Some causes, when they’re serious, and how to avoid them.
Q: Does gender have an effect on your digestive system?
Dr. Vemulapalli: Women tend to have different digestive issues because of physiological changes they go through during menstruation. Usually, women who are menstruating will have diarrhea, gas, and bloating, as well as abdominal pain and cramps. All these symptoms will be worse in women who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder in which the nerve supply to the gastrointestinal system is upset because of things like stress, diet, or medications. As a physician, it’s important to discover whether the symptoms a patient is experiencing are just normal, or whether they’re something like IBS that requires further treatment.
Q: What’s the difference between irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?
Dr. Vemulapalli: IBD is a combination of autoimmune and microbiological disorders where your gut recognizes the colon and small intestine cells as foreign bodies, causing irritation and ulcers in the colon. With IBS, on the other hand, the colon appears perfectly normal, since it’s essentially a nerve problem. There are two types of IBS: constipation, which is more prevalent, and diarrhea. About 20 percent of people have IBS-type symptoms on a daily basis, but women are much more aware of their bodies and tend to go to health care providers seeking treatment, typically when they’re middle-aged. Men tend to put it off until retirement, when they begin focusing more on their health and wellness. You should see a doctor about digestive issues if you notice any blood in your stool; if you keep losing weight despite having a normal appetite; if you’re doing everything right, but just don’t feel well; if you have anemia; or if you have difficulty swallowing.
Q: What’s the best way to avoid developing IBS or to minimize its symptoms?
Dr. Vemulapalli: Stress can affect your overall health, including bringing on IBS. Try to develop coping skills to deal with stress at work or in the family. Lifestyle modifications are also helpful, as are maintaining a healthy weight, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and drinking lots of water. In addition, well-controlled studies have shown that having a good relationship with your doctor helps alleviate IBS symptoms because patients see doctors as stress-relieving channels. At UT Southwestern, we take a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach that considers all aspects of digestive issues.
Dr. Vemulapalli, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, earned her medical degree at Kakatiya Medical College in Warangal, India, followed by a residency in internal medicine at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She completed fellowships in clinical nutrition at the University of Chicago, and in gastroenterology/hepatology at UT Southwestern. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Vemulapalli, call 214-645-8300.
Visit utsouthwestern.edu/colonhealth to watch Dr. Vemulapalli discuss colon cancer screening, and to send an e-card to a loved one.