With Good Measure Pharmacy, Rotherham
Bowel movements are one of the most natural – and important – facts of life, so why are we still so privy about toilet talk? Knowing how to keep your bowels healthy can help prevent a range of common digestive disorders which, if ignored, can have an unpleasant impact on life.
While there will be some people whose bowels are like clockwork, around half of the UK population don’t poo once a day. So, it is no surprise that one in three of UK adults experience recurring bouts of constipation, diarrhoea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
An upset digestive tract can make you feel bloated and sluggish, as well as making you anxious about using the loo, particularly away from the comfort of your home.
The digestive tract, which is the largest organ in the body, has a vital role in ensuring your body gets the right nutrients it needs for energy, growth and cell repair. Diet is a major cause of tummy troubles; try not to miss meals, make sure you chew your food well, and drink plenty of fluids to soften stools and encourage the passage of waste.
Because of the brain-gut interaction, digestive disorders can also be caused by stress, depression, or anxiety. You may be more likely to experience a digestive disorder if there is family history, or your medical history includes previous surgery or medication.
We look at three common digestive complaints and how to help prevent them.
Constipation is medically classed as when you have two or more of the following symptoms:
- Fewer than three bowel movements a week
- Hard, dry, lumpy or large stools
- Excessive straining on the toilet
- Feeling like you haven’t fully evacuated your bowels
There are many reasons why you may be constipated, such as a diet low in fibre, not drinking enough water, changing your diet, not moving around enough, ignoring the urge to go, stress or depression, and side effects of some medications.
The elderly are five times more likely to get recurrent constipation due to lack of interest in meals, limited mobility, and low fluid intake.
The long-term impact of chronic constipation can result in faecal impaction (where stool builds in the large intestine), anal fissures or tears, haemorrhoids, and rectal prolapse.
Many people might reach for laxatives when they’re feeling blocked up, but they can have side effects. So, it is always advised to take a natural approach by making a few lifestyle changes to ease constipation first.
Always see your GP if you have constipation with anal bleeding/blood in your stool, pain in your abdomen, a lump in your tummy, or unexplained weight loss as it may be something more serious.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS can either cause constipation, diarrhoea, or both which are usually accompanied by stomach cramps or bloating. Other symptoms may be flatulence, mucus in your stool, fatigue, lack of energy, nausea, backache or incontinence.
There is no known cause or cure, but it is thought people with IBS have greater sensitivity to the way that their intestines are moving. Symptoms may last days, weeks or months at a time. Women are twice as likely to have IBS, especially women under 50.
People with IBS usually have it for life but learn to manage it by being aware of what triggers their flare-ups. Triggers may be spicy foods or alcohol, eating too quickly, or consuming too much caffeine.
There is no specific test for IBS, but your GP will usually look to rule out other bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. You may be asked to keep a food diary to look for any triggers or patterns in your symptoms.
Cooking using fresh ingredients, increasing exercise, trying to relax, and taking a probiotic may help ease your symptoms. To reduce bloating or cramping, you may find it helpful to limit hard to digest foods such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, beans and onions.
As we get older, small pockets or bulges called diverticula develop in the lining of the large intestine. Usually there will be no symptoms, but if you have pain in your tummy, blood in your poo, and constipation or diarrhoea then it may be diverticular disease.
If the diverticula become inflamed or infected, this can lead to diverticulitis which is recognised by more severe abdominal pain, a high temperature, and mucus or blood in your poo. Other complications may be bowel perforation or obstruction, abscess, or peritonitis (infection of the abdominal wall).
Diverticular disease is common in people aged over 80 but other risk factors can be obesity, a diet low in fibre, taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin, or smoking. If you think your may have diverticular disease, see your GP to rule out other conditions via a colonoscopy and CT scan.
Increasing your fibre intake can help reduce the chance of diverticula forming and developing. This is because a diet lacking in fibre results in smaller stools, meaning there is less pressure along the colon wall which allows sacs to form in weak spots.