Many women are embarassed to talk about issues like incontinence and constipation, but discussing digestive concerns with your health provider is essential to your wellbeing.
Elizabeth Wood, MD said patients should always bring up their concerns so their doctors can help them avoid serious illness and improve quality of life.
Dr. Wood is part of a multidisciplinary team at Regional One Health that helps patients through lifestyle changes, medications and surgery.
Colorectal health is a topic many women don’t like to talk about – but Elizabeth Wood, MD says getting past that discomfort is key to catching problems early and finding proper treatment.
Dr. Wood is a colorectal surgeon at Regional One Health, where she treats a range of conditions including abscesses, fecal incontinence, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and colorectal cancer.
She wants to raise awareness and put patients at ease about visiting a physician when they notice symptoms like stomach or anal pain, changes in stool, leaking stool, and constipation.
“A lot of women are hesitant to talk about bowel function, and we want them to know we’re here to listen and help,” Dr. Wood said. “Pain and changes in bowel habits are warning signs that you need to see a doctor. You don’t have to suffer in silence – there are options to alleviate your symptoms and improve your quality of life.”
Dr. Wood said women can be at a higher risk for colorectal conditions linked to the pelvic floor, especially if they’ve had children.
Dr. Elizabeth Wood encourages patients to talk to their doctors about colorectal symptoms. “We can try different techniques and medications that help patients address symptoms, cope with chronic illness, and improve quality of life.”
“During pregnancy and childbirth, the pelvic floor can suffer trauma,” she explained. “You may bounce back at first, but as women get older they might notice higher rates of issues like fecal incontinence and constipation due to that trauma.”
When a patient comes to her with concerns related to the pelvic floor, the first thing Dr. Wood does is work to establish trust.
“I try to earn their trust by letting them talk and listening carefully,” she said. “I don’t want to rush them – I want to make sure they’re really heard. That way I can get a thorough history and a sense of the nuances of their symptoms, so I know which treatment they’ll benefit from most.”
Dr. Wood typically spends a good 30-45 minutes with patients at that first consultation. Many of her patients are referred by their primary care provider or a gastroenterologist.
“We do a deep dive into their symptoms,” she said. “We talk about what’s been going on and for how long, and what they tried in the past to alleviate them.”
Sometimes, she uses diagnostic imaging tests such as CT scan, endoscopy and colonoscopy. She also does a thorough physical exam that looks more closely at the pelvic region.
“The exam we do is more focused, which is why seeing a specialist is so important,” Dr. Wood said. “A woman’s pelvic floor has three compartments – the bladder, uterus and rectum. Doing a thorough exam of all of those compartments allows us to determine how to help our patients.”
While Dr. Wood is a surgeon, that isn’t the first place she turns for treatment. In fact, “Surgery is usually our last line of treatment for a lot of the pelvic floor disorders.”
Women are at a higher risk for colorectal conditions related to the pelvic floor. Lifestyle changes and pelvic floor physical therapy can often help with issues like constipation and incontinence.
She typically starts by counseling patients on lifestyle changes.
Eating healthy, exercising, and drinking plenty of water can help ease constipation. Losing weight and stopping smoking are also important, because carrying additional weight and having a chronic cough due to smoking are both linked to fecal incontinence.
Dr. Wood said many patients benefit from working with Regional One Health’s pelvic floor physical therapists, who can help them strengthen the muscles of the pelvis through exercises and other therapies. There are also medications that can help patients address their symptoms.
If surgery is a patient’s best option, Dr. Wood specializes in minimally invasive approaches that reduce risk, scarring and recovery time.
No matter what the course of treatment, Dr. Wood says it all starts with an honest conversation with a health care provider – and she encourages women not to shy away from that.
“If you have symptoms and are at all concerned, you should get it checked out. It warrants a visit to the doctor,” she said. “We can try different techniques and medications that help patients address symptoms, cope with chronic illness, and improve their quality of life.”
For an appointment at Regional One Health, call 901-545-6969.