These Latest Gender Pain Gap Figures Are Literally A Kick In Gut

50% of women said their GP ignored or dismissed their pain.
LaylaBird via Getty Images

Cramps, bloating, and changes in bowel habits, gut problems like IBS and Colitis can really take over your life. And recent studies show that gastrointestinal disorders are disproportionately affecting women, contributing towards the gender pain gap.

In 2022, pain medication company Nurofen conducted their own study looking into the gender pain gap, and found that 50% of women said their GP and 27% said their HCP ignored or dismissed their pain, with partners/spouses (26%) and friends (21%) reacting in the same way.

Speaking about the study’s findings, Dr Elinor Cleghorn, author of Unwell Women: A Journey Through Medicine and Myth in a Man-Made World, said: “The Gender Pain Gap Index Report is the beginning of a vital shift in the cultural, social, and medical perception of women’s pain.”

The government seemed to take notice, launching their First Women’s Health Strategy for England in July last year to tackle systemic issue in the healthcare system that means women aren’t being listened to.

The gender pain gap as well as social issues like stigma and gender stereotypes are major challenges in diagnosing conditions that can be agonising – most people can wait up to six years for treatment.

With that in mind, we speak to Billy Boyle, CEO at Owlstone Medical, to find out why it’s so important to look after our gut health to avoid any potential issues from developing.

What is gut health and why should everyone have it on their radar?

With 57% of us experiencing gut health problems and 45% of those people saying their issues are chronic (lasting three months of more), there’s never been a better time to learn more about keeping our gut health in balance.

“Your body is home to an estimated 40 trillion bacterial cells, a large proportion of which live in your digestive system as part of the ‘gut microbiome’,” explains Boyle.

Gut bacteria play a really important role in our bodies. “From helping to digest food, to producing essential vitamins, protecting your digestive system from pathogenic bacteria, and even supporting the function of your own immune system, your gut bacteria is essential in keeping your body healthy,” says Boyle.

“Your gut microbiome can be impacted by many factors – diet, sleep, medication, stress, smoking, exercise – and more. Being mindful of how to best support your microbial inhabitants is important, as changes to the composition or metabolic activity of the gut microbiome have been associated with several disease states, including cardiometabolic disease, liver disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”

Why are women in particular struggling more with bowel diseases?

Women’s unique biology can be a factor in why gut disorders are disproportionately affecting women, says Boyle. “The female colon is around 10cm longer than men’s and shares space in the abdomen with the female reproductive organs.

“Women also tend to struggle more with gastrointestinal disorders due to monthly fluctuations of oestrogen and progesterone. Changes in these hormone levels can alter the time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system, leading to uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea, and stomach pain when food travels faster, or gas, bloating, and constipation.”

What are some ways women can spot gut issues early before they develop into bigger issues?

“If you notice any changes to your normal bowel habits or start experiencing new gastrointestinal symptoms, you should speak to a medical professional who can assess you for signs of serious diseases like bowel cancer,” suggests Boyle.

“Persistent symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation can be symptoms of digestive disorders like IBS, SIBO, and carbohydrate malabsorption (CM).”