Over 30 percent of us complain of frequent bloating, according to a recent Dartmouth study. While PMS or dietary boo-boos (eating a few too many gassy veggies or drinking carbonated beverages) are often to blame, sometimes it can indicate a more serious health problem, says Sherry Ross, M.D., ob-gyn and Women’s Health Expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. See your doctor ASAP if you notice any of the following along with chronic bloating:
Although rare, it could indicate ovarian cancer, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as feeling full quickly while eating and suddenly having to pee or eddpoop a lot. “This is caused by an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, a condition called ascites, and/or pressure from an ovarian mass against your abdomen or pelvis,” explains Steve Vasilev, MD, gynecologic oncologist and medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. But only about a third of all women are aware that any of these symptoms are a sign of ovarian cancer, according to a study published this past April in the journal Clinical Nursing Research. (These are the eight things every woman needs to know about ovarian cancer.)
What to do: Don’t panic, since most of the time these symptoms point to a more benign condition, such as fibroids. But you should see your doctor ASAP to get checked out. The two tests used most often to screen for ovarian cancer are a transvaginal ultrasound (a test that uses sound waves to look for masses on your ovaries) and the CA-125 blood test (if you have ovarian cancer, levels of the protein CA-125 are high).
About 1 percent of the population has celiac disease, a condition in which your body has an autoimmune reaction to gluten that damages your intestinal lining. But it’s estimated that up to 83 percent of Americans with celiac are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, according to the advocacy group Beyond Celiac. While the most common signs are diarrhea and weight loss, about half of all adults with celiac have some signs not related to their GI tract, including anemia, skin rashes, headaches, and early stage osteoporosis, says Deevya Narayanan, MD, a family medicine physician at the Medical Offices of Manhattan.
What to do: See a gastroenterologist, who can order a blood test that looks for certain antibodies in your blood that indicate celiac disease. If it’s positive, you’ll need an endoscopy so your doctor can take a small tissue sample from your small intestine to analyze it for damage. If you do have celiac, treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. But don’t try to go cold turkey on gluten before doing this test and talking to your doctor, or you could end up with a false negative.
It’s easy to dismiss these pains as part of your time of the month or even a stomach bug, but if they’re on the lower left side of your tummy you may have diverticulitis, a condition in which small pouches develop in the lining of the lower part of your colon and become inflamed, says Ross. While it’s traditionally been thought of as a disease for old folk, there’s been a rise in cases among people under the age of 40, according to a review published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. (Researchers aren’t sure why, but one theory is it’s due to obesity and a low-fiber Western diet.)
What to do: Terrible cramping, especially if it’s accompanied by fever, warrants an immediate trip to your doctor’s office. You’ll likely need blood, urine, and stool tests to rule out other sources of infection, and if diverticulitis is still the most likely culprit you’ll probably get a CT scan. Treatment is antibiotics; you’ll also be put on a liquid diet for a few days while your bowel heals.
After you recover, you can prevent recurrences by eating more fiber. (Here’s how you can sneak more fiber into your diet.) You may also want to consider something called the low-FODMAP diet, which stands for fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols, suggests Stephen Hanauer, MD, Medical Director of the Digestive Health Center at Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago. That means eating foods low in the carbohydrates fructose (found in fruit and honey), lactose (in dairy), fructans (in wheat, garlic, and onions), galactans (in legumes), and polyols (sugar-free sweeteners), and stone fruit, such as apricots, cherries, and nectarines.
Almost 5% of all reproductive-aged women (ages 18-44) have experienced pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) according to the CDC, a condition in which an untreated STD such as chlamydia or gonorrhea travels from the vagina into the fallopian tubes or uterus where it causes fever, chills, and–if left untreated–infertility. But in the early stages, symptoms can be subtler, such as mild pelvic pain, irregular bleeding, or trouble peeing, notes Ross. (Keep your vagina happy and healthy with these tips.)
What to do: See your gynecologist, pronto. Your doctor will do a pelvic exam, test you for chlamydia and gonorrhea, and run urine and blood tests to check for infection. Sometimes they will also need to do ultrasounds or even a laparoscopy (inserting a tiny camera through a cut in your belly button to check your interior lady parts) to determine how far the infection has spread. Treatment is antibiotics, and, in very rare cases, surgery.
Bloating accompanied by frequent tummy pain and the runs can often be a sign of an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, both of which cause inflammation of your digestive tract, notes Narayanan. Up to 40% of the time patients also have non-GI symptoms such as vision problems (usually eye pain and blurred vision), skin rashes, and fatigue.
What to do: Your primary care physician can refer you to a GI specialist, who will run a battery of tests, including blood tests, to look for inflammation; stool tests for bacteria or parasitic infections; and an endoscopy to examine and biopsy parts of your digestive tract. The good news is there are a host of new, effective treatments out there, such as anti-inflammatory drugs like sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) and immune-system suppressing drugs like Infliximab (Remicade) or adalimumab (Humira).
Credit: Women’s Heath Mag