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Bowel Habits & Constipation


Cause and Treatment of Constipation

Bowel habits vary from person to person. They include the frequency of your bowel movement, the control that one has during a bowel movement, the consistency of stools as well as their colour. Changes observed in any one of these factors, such as diarrhea and constipation, would imply a change in bowel habits.

In most healthy individuals, a change in bowel habits is often caused by external factors such as a change in one’s diet or an increased fibre intake. However, while some bowel movements can represent temporary infections or a variation in food intake, others may indicate an underlying health issue that may present serious complications if left untreated and undiagnosed.

Constipation is a common bowel habit, and occurs when bowel movements become less frequent with stools that become difficult to pass. Usually, constipation occurs due to changes in diet, routine or even the inadequate of fibre and water.

Speak to your doctor if you notice stool changes in any of the following:

1. Colour

The colour of stools varies and depends on the foods you eat. You should be concerned if your stools are deep red, maroon, black, or “tarry,” especially if they have a noticeable odour. This may mean that there is blood in the stool. Small amounts of bright red blood on stool or toilet paper are likely caused by haemorrhoids or an anal fissure.

2. Consistency (degree of firmness)

Stools should be soft and pass easily. Hard, dry stools might be a sign of constipation. You seek medical attention if constipation lasts longer than two weeks. Also, if you have nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and have not been able to pass gas or stools, this could mean that there is an obstruction (blockage). You should see a colorectal surgeon or go to Accident & Emergency Department.

Diarrhoea is bowel movements that are loose and watery. Diarrhoea is a common condition and is usually not serious. You should see a doctor if:

  • You have severe abdominal pain or discomfort with your diarrhoea
  • Diarrhoea is accompanied by fever, chills, vomiting, or fainting.
  • Severe diarrhoea lasts longer than two days.
  • You are elderly, were recently hospitalized, pregnant, or immunocompromised
  • You have diarrhoea that lasts for more than two weeks.

3. Frequency

The normal length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements several times a day, others only once or twice a week.

Going longer than three days without having a bowel movement is too long. After three days, the stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass. Constipation then occurs as bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. If you have constipation for more than two weeks, you should see a doctor so that he or she can determine what the problem is and treat it.

Some of patients with constipation have a more serious underlying medical problem (such as low thyroid function, diabetes, or colon cancer). You should see a doctor if you have unexplained, sudden urges to have a bowel movement. This could be a sign of a mass in the rectum or inflammatory bowel disease. For a patient who has colon cancer, early detection and treatment might be lifesaving.

Often times, your doctor will recommend seeing a specialist such as a colorectal surgeon for a colonoscopy. Colonoscopy is the gold standard for investigating the colon. It is both diagnostic and therapeutic and is usually done as a day surgery. It is a very common procedure and is recommended for people with symptoms especially if they are over 50 years old.