We asked Dr. Isabelle von Althen, a specialist in women’s gastrointestinal (GI) health, to describe the gender-specific differences that exist in caring for and treating gastrointestinal conditions and disordersin female patients.
What is one of the key factors in quality GI care?
When you consider that the quality of one’s medical care is based largely on what a patient feels comfortable discussing with one’s physician, communication is key. Just as there are women who prefer a female obstetrician/gynecologist, there are women who are more comfortable talking about their gastrointestinal issues and concerns with a female gastroenterologist. While most women are aware that they should be screened regularly for colorectal cancer after the age of 50, some will delay their colonoscopy until they can be seen by a female gastroenterologist. Quality GI care for women, however, is not just about colonoscopy for women by women. It involves active listening and appreciation for what has brought her to the gastroenterologist. It has do with taking the time to understand the health issue and to formulate a diagnostic plan that takes into account the differences between women and men.
Which GI conditions are most prevalent in women?
There are many. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is two to three times more prevalent in women. IBS refers to abdominal pain associated with altered bowel habits. Bloating, although not a diagnostic criterion, is often also present. IBS is not associated with malignancy or dangerous consequences but it is associated with decreased quality of life and makes people uncomfortable, anxious and unhappy. Another condition that affects more women than men is functional dyspepsia, marked by chronic indigestion, upset stomach or bloating in the, upper abdomen. Even colorectal cancer screenings for women require special consideration. The female colon is typically more difficult to scope because of the anatomically deeper pelvis, the frequency of adhesions from pelvic surgery and the fact that the flexures, or turns, are tight
er. Women’s polyps also are distributed higher in the colon. Constipation, certain immune-mediated liver diseases, gallbladder stones and fecal incontinence are also more prevalent in women.
What distinguishes Stony Brook’s GI care for women?
The Gastrointestinal Women’s Center at Stony Brook is the first of its kind in Suffolk County to provide expert evaluations, diagnoses and treatment for GI conditions and disorders in women. Our team of four highly trained female gastroenterologists and an all-female staff, including our nurse practitioner, possess the knowledge, skills and abilities unique to women’s GI health. We work with other key specialists, including advanced endoscopists, urologists, radiologists, nutritionists and dietitians to best serve the needs of each patient.
Our areas of expertise include IBS; inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); motility (movement within the digestive tract), including esophageal and anorectal manometry (the evaluation of muscles); pH monitoring; liver disease; and general GI. We also emphasize nutrition and diet as a non-pharmacological means to health improvement.
In many instances, the sophisticated procedures we perform and the advanced technology used are unique to Stony Brook. For instance, nowhere else in the tri-state region is highresolution anorectal manometry, a technique used to diagnose pelvic floor dyssynergia (a problem with coordinating the rectal and anal muscles), available in combination with biofeedback to re-train patients to coordinate rectal muscles to improve incontinence.
We are also conducting research unique to Suffolk County, including the determination of bowel preps that are most effective and easiest for women to use, since what works well for the male anatomy doesn’t always work well for the female anatomy. At Stony Brook’s Gastrointestinal Women’s Center, we are proud to be serving the community in a way that positively impacts women’s health.
For more information about the Gastrointestinal Women’s Center at Stony Brook, call (631) 444-4000
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