While men and women are both susceptible to gastrointestinal disorders, there are some health conditions that are more prevalent in men. With men typically visiting their doctors less than women, it’s important for men to be aware of the signs and symptoms of digestive health issues and to seek treatment when problems arise. Not only will this avoid unnecessary suffering, but it could also prevent conditions from becoming chronic and potentially more serious diseases.
According to a 2015 National Health Interview Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women were more likely than men to have seen a health professional within the last 12 months across all age groups, except for those 65 years or older. This means many American men are not getting regular checkups or recommended health screenings.
Some of the digestive problems that are more common in men include constipation, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), ulcers and chronic pancreatitis. There are also some cancers that affect men more than women: colon and liver. Read on to learn more about these conditions and their symptoms.
Constipation is generally described as having less than three bowel movements a week or difficulty passing stools. The main causes of constipation are usually lifestyle-related, such as not getting enough fiber in your diet, lack of physical activity, stress and side effects from medication.
Although laxatives may help, they are not a long-term solution. Overuse of laxatives can result in the bowels becoming dependent on the laxative effect, which can worsen the condition and potentially lead to dehydration and mineral deficiencies. Patients can try lifestyle changes like getting more exercise, adding more dietary fiber and staying hydrated. If constipation persists, it should be evaluated by your doctor, as it may be a sign of a more serious problem.
GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic form of acid reflux that can lead to serious complications if left untreated, including an increased risk of cancer. While occasional acid reflux (which occurs when stomach acid moves back up through the esophagus) is not a cause for alarm, you should consult your doctor for an evaluation if it is happening twice or more per week.
The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn, which usually occurs after eating. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, chest pain and regurgitation. Many patients find that they can reduce or prevent acid reflux by avoiding trigger foods like fatty or spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol, along with the use of over-the-counter medications. If lifestyle changes are not effective, your doctor may recommend prescription medication or surgery.
Ulcers are open sores that form on the stomach lining and the upper section of the small intestine. Pain is the most common symptom. Although, indigestion, heartburn and nausea may also occur. Ulcers are caused by bacterial infection or long-term use of aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. It is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you suspect that you may have an ulcer, as untreated peptic ulcers can cause internal bleeding, infection and obstructions. Treatment will depend on the cause. However, prescription medication, along with lifestyle changes, is usually all that is required.
Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that gets worse over time, and it can eventually destroy the pancreas. According to the National Pancreas Foundation, chronic pancreatitis is more common in men and in patients between 30 and 40 years old.
The most common causes include heavy alcohol use, autoimmune disorders, cystic fibrosis, blocked pancreatic or bile ducts, and a family history of pancreatitis. Symptoms usually include pain in the upper abdomen that may spread to the back, along with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, oily and/or pale-colored stools, and weight loss. Treatment may include supplements and lifestyle changes to improve digestion, pain medication and avoidance of alcohol. Surgery may be required in some cases.
Both men and women should be regularly screened for colon cancer from the age of 50, even earlier if there is a family history. As colon cancer is slightly more common in men, taking preventive action and getting timely screenings is key. Other risk factors for colon cancer include being overweight, a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, smoking, heavy alcohol use, type 2 diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome. The most common symptoms are blood in the stool, irregular bowel movements, anemia, fatigue and rapid weight loss.
Men are almost three times more likely to get liver cancer than women. According to the American Cancer Society, 30,170 men and 12,640 women will be diagnosed with primary liver cancer in the United States this year — an incidence level that has tripled since 1980. Liver cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death for men, with about 20,000 men estimated to die from liver cancer this year.
Risk factors include having other liver diseases, a family history of liver diseases, diabetes, obesity, heavy alcohol use and toxin exposure. The most common symptoms are abdominal pain or swelling, jaundice, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue. Although, there may be no symptoms present in the early stages. Treatment will depend on the stage of your cancer and other health factors, but it may include surgery, drug therapy or a liver transplant.
The team at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., treats multiple conditions and diseases of the GI tract. Our Board-Certified physicians have over 150 years of combined experience in providing quality care that you can trust. To schedule an appointment, call our clinic at (318) 631-9121.