A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Stomach: Taking Control of Your Digestive Health

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9780373892235: A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Stomach: Taking Control of Your Digestive Health
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Why do my jeans fit only in the morning?

Why am I always guzzling Pepto-Bismol before a big meeting?

Could my PMS cramps mean something serious?


Here, finally, are the answers to these questions, and hundreds more, about the nagging stomach problems that plague so many women. In this reassuring guide, Dr. Jacqueline L. Wolf, a leading expert in the field of gastrointestinal health, explains the causes and cures for women's most common digestive ailments (including bloating, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, IBS) and more serious, life-altering conditions like Crohn's disease and endometriosis. This candid book deals with sensitive issues in a down-to-earth way and eradicates once and for all the secrecy and shame surrounding these urgent problems.

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About the Author:

Jacqueline L. Wolf, M.D., is a pioneer in the field of gastroenterology and women's health. She is a physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Her work has earned her praise as one of the "Top Doctors" by Boston Magazine, as well as listings in Who's Who in America and Best Doctors in America.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



This is a different kind of bathroom book. It's a book about bowel function—blowing the lid (so to speak) off the secrecy and shame surrounding female digestive ailments once and for all. This is a reassuring guide for women by a woman. It explains the causes and cures for our most embarrassing, urgent and common stomach problems. Wondering what those PMS cramps might mean? Always guzzling Pepto-Bismol before a big meeting? Read on.

Stomach ailments might just be the last great taboo in American culture. Women are the ones who suffer (I'm not just saying this—statistics back me up), and yet we're not whining about it! Seems silly, doesn't it? Bowel function is a necessary fact of life. We all go. But how many times have you hunched in the office bathroom stall, waiting for the boss to comb her hair and wash her hands, before letting loose with a massive explosion? Or wondered if your bad breath was caused by the onions you had for lunch—or something more sinister, like acid reflux? You're not going to cry about this over cocktails with your friends or coffee with your mother. No, it's easy to think everyone else is clean and pure, while you're the only woman alive with gas, acid, pain and cramping. But I'm here to tell you that your glamorous coworker with the designer clothes and perfect hair has stomach problems just like you, and it isn't always pretty.

It's during times like these, when things aren't pretty, that our stomachs become the center of our universe. The stomach is where we feel stress, nervousness, anxiety, pain. Just ask Freud. Yet, strangely, there aren't any books or websites that deal with stomach problems in a way that isn't completely satirical (ratemypoo.com) or incredibly technical (I won't bore you).

As a physician, I see this as a huge problem. Because when legitimate illnesses become shrouded in shame, they pose life-altering consequences for those who suffer from them. The repercussions range from the severe (undiagnosed ovarian cancer) to the annoying (planning out your driving route based on the nearest rest stop). By the time many patients reach my office, they've suffered alone for years, or they've been brushed off by doctors or told to take an over-the-counter medication.

Why? Bowel issues are hard to diagnose, thanks to symptoms that could really mean anything, and they're tough to talk about. They involve bad smells and strange noises. You might have constant gas, but who wants to go to a doctor complaining of humiliating farting? You might get constipated during your period, but would this move you to get a GI referral? No, probably not. That's where I come in. Consider this book your cheat sheet to bowel problems. This isn't a substitute for a doctor's visit—and please, if you have unusual symptoms, don't hesitate to get checked out—but this is a jumping-off point for women who need answers.

Just as important, I think it's helpful to recognize that men have it easier in this arena. (Sorry, guys.) As I've seen in my practice, stomach complaints are largely a "woman thing." Like it or not, men are more apt to boast about farting or joke about bathroom escapades. Prostate exams are a rite of passage that men fret about—and joke about, too. You can't turn on the TV without seeing a bronzed man in a hot tub singing the praises of Viagra. It's okay for men to talk about and make light of their issues! Why not women?

I'm not sure why. But I do know that when it comes to the stomach, women are more prone to suffer quietly, with physical and emotional consequences. We also suffer from issues, like PMS and endometriosis, that just don't affect men. And women are more likely than men to get gallbladder disease, autoimmune disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation.

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!

Each chapter in this book touches on the physical, emotional and social consequences of women's most common bowel conditions, from endometriosis to irritable bowel syndrome. In many cases, I highlight patients whose diagnoses are illuminating or particularly interesting (though for space's sake, they are abridged here, and out of concern for privacy, their names, occupations and other possible identifiers have been changed). These women wanted to tell their stories so that other women might know that, yes, we're all in this together. Indeed, while digestive dysfunction can point to serious problems, often it's a common ailment with a clear-cut solution. How reassuring for the millions of women scouring the Internet in secrecy, running to the bathroom between appointments and avoiding social situations for fear of an eruption to know that there's help. Each chapter also includes Q&As, designed to answer the most common questions I hear in my practice. You'll also find advice on what to ask your doctor and which medications are worthwhile (and which ones aren't), as well as nutrition tips.

So find a quiet corner—maybe your bathroom, even?—and start reading!

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