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BIOLOGY

ABC’s of Menopause: Digestive Issues

Everything You Need to Know & How To Take Back Control.

Mia West
December 4, 2023
Medically-reviewed and fact checked by Ryan Lester, PA-C

Menopause is the “gift” that keeps on giving. With 34 associated symptoms that can easily be ascribed to a myriad of other health conditions, it can be impossible to know if what you’re experiencing is tied to menopause without a hormone test. Each week this series will break down symptoms to empower women to take back control of their health and enjoy some relief.

The broad spectrum of physical discomforts linked to menopause is simultaneously mortifying and strangely awe-inspiring. Among the less recognized symptoms, digestive issues display a wildly unpredictable nature in their manifestations ranging from mild nuisances to significant disruptions in daily life. Moreover, they can be triggered by allergies that emerged during menopause. Yes, you read that correctly - a menopause symptom can induce another menopause symptom, further adding to the complexity of this “normal” phase of life. We’ll unpack the underlying causes and offer practical advice to help reduce frequent Costco runs for toilet paper. 

What Causes Digestive Issues for Menopausal Women?

Similar to menopause-related bloating, this phenomenon can be partially attributed to hormonal shifts affecting the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome, a community of beneficial bacteria essential for digestion in the intestines, plays a crucial role in processing hormones such as estrogen and facilitating their elimination from the body, as indicated by research published in the International Journal of Women’s Health in 2022. 

As hormones like cortisol, estrogen, and insulin fluctuate, gastrointestinal issues can follow including cramping, gas, constipation, heartburn, increased acid reflux, indigestion or diarrhea. Another study from 2020 suggests that symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may intensify during and after menopause, likely due to lower estrogen levels.

How Do I Know if My Digestive Issues are Menopause Related?

It’s impossible to know for sure without speaking with a healthcare professional and having your hormones tested. Aside from being within the menopause period age range, the symptoms are too close to other health issues to easily connect them.

What Else Causes Digestive Issues?

While menopause is a significant player, various other factors can contribute to digestive issues:

  • Diet: The composition of one's diet can significantly impact digestive health. Lacking fiber, food allergies, or reactions to dairy are just a few examples.
  • Stress: Emotional and psychological stressors can exacerbate digestive problems, including travel and routine changes.
  • Underlying Medical Conditions: Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or lactose intolerance may coexist. 
  • Medications: Certain medications can instigate GI issues. Antidepressants, iron pills, strong pain medicines such as opioids, and even antacids and antidiarrheals used to treat the condition can all contribute.

What Are My Treatment Options?

Effective management of menopausal digestive issues involves a multifaceted approach:

  • Adopting a Healthy Diet: Emphasizing fiber-rich foods, staying hydrated, and moderating caffeine and alcohol intake can promote digestive health.
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity aids in maintaining overall health, including digestive well-being.
  • Stress Management: Techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can help alleviate stress and its impact on the digestive system.
  • Over-the-Counter Medications: Laxatives or antacids, under the guidance of a healthcare professional, can provide relief for specific symptoms.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Bioidentical hormone therapy balances hormones, minimizing or even eliminating menopause symptoms like GI issues.

When Should I See A Doctor?

Individuals facing persistent or severe digestive issues that significantly impact daily life should seek medical guidance to identify and address potential underlying medical conditions. If you suspect that your discomfort is related to menopause and wish to address other associated symptoms, consult a hormone specialist about the comprehensive health benefits of an HRT program.

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About the Author

Mia West

A former journalist, Mia brings a high energy approach to communications rooted in insights, culture and brand DNA. She is driven by helping brands crystalize their story and foster meaningful, emotional connections with audiences. Over the years she has collaborated with prominent brands such as Petco, Keurig Dr Pepper, Jaguar Land Rover, Revlon, and Procter & Gamble Beauty, as well as many others in the retail, health & wellness, beauty, lifestyle, and sustainability realms. A California native, she lives in San Diego with her family at the beach.

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