What does the “indigestion” of ovarian cancer feel like and what’s it like with irritable bowel syndrome?

Are there similarities? What are the differences?

“Indigestion (the sensation of abdominal discomfort during or after eating) could be a symptom of ovarian cancer,” says Teresa P. Diaz-Montes, MD, of the Gynecologic Oncology Center at Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, MD.

“Indigestion that is persistent and that lasts for a prolonged period of time (more than two weeks) and associated with nausea, vomiting, abdominal distention (feeling that clothes are tightly fit), feeling full after eating a small amount of food, changes in weight (mostly unintentional weight loss), shortness of breath, loss of appetite and new-onset constipation could be concerning for a malignancy.”

“If ovarian cancer causes a bowel blockage, then persistent nausea and vomiting, increased abdominal distention and decreased passage of stools, mostly diarrhea, could be observed.

“There will be total absence of normal bowel movements that do not respond to the use of laxatives.”

Indigestion from IBS

“Indigestion is a common complaint among both IBS and non-IBS patients, but usually has vague and unclear meaning,” says Nnenna C. Okpara, MD, gastroenterologist and director of endoscopy at the Center for Women’s Gastrointestinal Health, Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, RI.

“For most, it is reported as a sensation of discomfort or fullness in the upper abdomen, usually following meals. Others describe bloating, gas or visible or sensed abdominal distension.

“Bloating and abdominal discomfort after meals is one of the more common symptoms amongst IBS sufferers.

“Multiple factors can lead to a sensation of abdominal distension, including air in the bowel, stool in the intestines and fluid within the abdominal cavity (known in medical terms as ascites).”

Ascites is pronounced uh-sight-eez (it has Greek origins).

“Ascites is a serious symptom which can occur in the setting of many abdominal and gynecological cancers, particularly ovarian, and should always be promptly investigated.

“In the case of IBS, constipation is a likely cause of bloating and fullness, as well as food intolerances to certain dietary components like lactose, gluten and other poorly digested/absorbed components, the so-called “FODMAPs.”

“Simple remedies including over-the-counter medications for constipation and gas, probiotics and dietary modification may provide improvement or relief.”

Dr. Diaz-Montesdr. diaz-montes is associate director of The Lya Segall Ovarian Cancer Institute at Mercy Medical Center. Board certified in gynecologic oncology, she has conducted various clinical trials to advance the care of gynecologic cancer. Gynecologic Oncology Center
Dr. Okpara’s clinical interests include colorectal cancer screening, gastrointestinal disease in pregnancy, and management of functional bowel disorders, including IBS and constipation.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


Top image: Shutterstock/Emily frost