Issues of aging related to a woman's body have come out of hiding, with one exception. While middle-aged women seem comfortable discussing menopause and even incontinence with their doctors, gastrointestinal issues like chronic constipation "remain taboo," even though they pose significant risk to both health and quality of life, according to a national expert who's coming to Utah this week.

Women are "woefully uninformed" about it, although it's happening to them, says Dr. Judith Reichman, "Today" show correspondent on women's health. She will discuss the issue during a special pre-show reception at 7:30 p.m. before Friday's performance of "Menopause the Musical" at the Jeanne Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South.

Straight Talk on Women's GI Health has paired with the musical production to encourage women to talk with their doctors about GI problems that are increasingly common as women age. Reichman is an associate clinical professor at University of California Los Angeles and an attending physician at Cedar-Sinai. The reception is underwritten by Takeda Pharmaceutical.

A woman's body changes in middle age, says Reichman, including an increase in chronic constipation, which afflicts 42 million Americans, two-thirds of them women. The bowels become less efficient at absorbing, extracting and excreting, and the result can be miserable.

A recent survey by Braun Research found that of women over 40 who suffer the condition, 87 percent said they are physically uncomfortable, 66 percent said it negatively affects their mood and 31 percent said it has kept them from leaving their home. Eighty-two percent said they deal with it with over-the-counter remedies, but nearly 60 percent said they get relief only some of the time or not at all.

Reichman uses the acronym DIGEST to educate her patients and others on coping with the condition:

• Diminish stress. Women need to take time for the things that relax them, whether it's yoga or reading or gardening. She unwinds with a hot bath.

• Increase intake of fiber, bran and water. They can help relieve discomfort and improve bowel function. Keeping a food diary will help identify any foods that are triggering digestive problems.

• Get more exercise. Good data show, she says, that 30 minutes of physical activity daily helps.

• Establish a daily bathroom routine. Constipation can become a habit that is a chronic condition.

• Stay informed.

• Talk with your doctor. Women sometimes assume that being bloated or constipated is just a part of aging, and that's true, to some extent, she said, but there are things that can be done about it.

More information is available online at www.GIstraight

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