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module menu icon Understanding the problem

Everyone has different bowel habits, varying from needing to use the toilet several times a day to as little as three times a week. Changes to bowel habits can cause discomfort, but are usually harmless and are often the result of lifestyle factors.

1. Constipation is when a person is not having bowel movements as often as is normal for them; is having less than three bowel movements per week; or if they are having difficulty passing stools, which may be dry and lumpy. There may also be associated nausea and/or stomach ache. Constipation can be caused by not eating enough fibre or drinking enough fluids, changes to the usual diet, lack of exercise or stress, as well as being a side effect of certain medicines.

2. Diarrhoea is the passing of frequent watery stools. There may be other symptoms too, such as stomach cramps, loss of appetite, dehydration or a fever. The causes of diarrhoea include infection, food intolerances and allergies, as well as certain medicines.

3. Haemorrhoids, or piles as they are more commonly known, are associated with increased pressure on the blood vessels in the rectum and anus, and can be either internal or external. It is not fully understood why piles occur, but straining to go to the toilet, pregnancy, being overweight or lifting heavy objects are all contributory factors. Symptoms include bleeding after a bowel movement (the blood is bright red), itching, and protruding lumps and soreness in and around the area.

Did you know?

A decrease in physical activity reduces the muscle tone in the bowel and abdomen and can slow down the movement of stools through the gut.