Women are 700% more likely than men to have ‘debilitating’ gut disease

Women are 700 per cent more likely than men to have a “debilitating” gut disease called microscopic colitis, new research has found.

The study, carried out by Guts UK, demanded more research is conducted to work out why the gender gap exists to ensure women are diagnosed more quickly and treated for the illness improves.

Guts UK, a leading charity, noted microscopic colitis is an inflammation of the large intestine which leads to tummy pain, frequent and watery diarrhoea during the day and night-time, as well as weight loss, fatigue, and faecal incontinence.

Campaigners noted microscopic colitis can be “debilitating” – massively damaging patients’ quality of life due to making it a struggle to do day-to-day tasks as symptoms mean sufferers must always stay by toilets. The repercussions can result in patients becoming highly isolated and thus their mental health deteriorating.

Research carried out earlier in the year found women make up 88 per cent of those who have the condition – with the majority diagnosed between the age of 50 and 70.

Julie, who was diagnosed with microscopic colitis back in 2020, said the symptoms of the condition are “awful”.

The 42-year-old, who is from Sidcup in Kent, added: “I experienced crippling stomach pain, nausea as well as watery diarrhoea which lasted for several weeks and only stopped when I was diagnosed and began a treatment of steroids.

“It all had a massive impact on mental health since this was during lockdown and I worried about what could be wrong. It’s a very isolating condition and I can understand why it’s called a hidden disability.

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“It’s been over a year since I was diagnosed and I’m still having flare-ups. I am constantly thinking about what I am eating and when I am out where the nearest facilities are – it’s exhausting.”

Julie, who did not want her surname used, argued there is profound ignorance about microscopic colitis – adding that many sufferers will not know what they are experiencing.

“My message for anyone with symptoms is that if you feel that things aren’t quite right and you’re struggling to get a diagnosis then persevere and push for an appointment with a gastroenterologist,” she added. “The treatments available can certainly improve symptoms.”

Around 67,200 people are estimated to be living with microscopic colitis in Britain – with at least one in 1,000 people believed to have the illness. Some 17,000 new cases are being diagnosed each year, however researchers warn the current figure could be a great deal larger.

Previous research discovered one in three patients with microscopic colitis were at first given the incorrect diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Julie Harrington, chief executive of Guts UK, said: “Thousands of people across the country are quite literally housebound with symptoms of microscopic colitis and we now know that the rates are increasing and are likely to grow further as the population ages.

“Further research is desperately needed to identify risk factors and find out why women are far more likely to suffer from microscopic colitis so we can move to a place where prevention and faster diagnosis is possible.

“In the meantime, I hope that this year’s Microscopic Colitis Awareness Week will raise awareness of this extremely difficult condition and that sufferers discover the simple treatments that can make a huge and dramatic difference to their quality of life.”

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Quality of life drastically improves if treated with a steroid called budesonide, researchers noted.

Digestive diseases are illnesses that have an impact on the gut, liver and pancreas – with the conditions a contributing factor in one in eight deaths in Britain.

Professor Shaji Sebastian, who is a trustee of Guts UK, as well as a Consultant Gastroenterologist at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Scientists still don’t fully understand what causes microscopic colitis and further research is clearly needed to determine what could be a combination of factors.

“What we do know is that the condition can be very debilitating but with the right tests it’s also very treatable. Early diagnosis is crucial to prevent patients from suffering when they don’t have to, so my main message this Microscopic Colitis Awareness Week is don’t suffer in silence and seek help from your GP if you’re experiencing symptoms.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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