How Do You Know if You Have Damaged Your Bowels?
The bowel, also known as the intestine, is an integral part of our digestive system. It is made up of the small bowel (small intestine or gut), and the large bowel (comprised of the colon and rectum).
Around 43% of Brits have experienced digestive problems at some point in their lifetimes, but only 59% of those people have ever discussed them with a doctor. This illustrates that most people are reluctant to discuss bowel problems, despite them being so common among the population.
In this article, we will answer the question ‘how do you know if you have damaged your bowels?’, which we hope you will find useful.
What is the function of the bowel?
Our digestive system is designed to break down the food that we ingest and get rid of the waste.
Firstly, the bowel helps the body absorb the minerals, nutrients and fluids from the foods we consume. The bowel is a long, continuous tube, running from the stomach to the anus.
Then, the leftover waste from the food are stored in the bowel, until they are emptied from the body in the form of a bowel movement.
What problems can occur with the bowels?
There are many health problems that can occur, if the bowels are inflamed, infected, develop a tumor, or do not work properly. These include:
- Diarrhoea: due to mild infection of the colon or small intestine.
- Constipation: when waste products from food moves too slowly through the digestive tract or cannot be eliminated effectively from the rectum.
- Stomach flu: due to infections from a virus, bacteria, or parasites.
- Salmonellosis: a bacterial infection that affects the gastrointestinal tract, commonly picked up through contaminated food or water.
- Celiac Disease: when your own immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten, which causes damage to your gut.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: which causes abdominal pain, excessive gas and cramps, due to problems with how food moves through your gastrointestinal tract.
- Inflammatory bowel disease, Colitis or Crohn’s Disease: inflammation of the colon or bowel, due to genetic factors, invading virus or bacteria, or your immune system attacking cells in the digestive tract.
- Cancer of the colon: when cells in the lining of the bowel grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner)
How do you know if you have damaged your bowels?
Your bowel can weaken, become infected, or damaged, due to various reasons. So, how do you know if you have damaged your bowels?
Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Blood in your stool or on toilet tissue
- Severe pain or discomfort after eating
- Severe stomach pain, which does not go away
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Unexplained changes in bowel movements or urine
- Painful bowel movements
- Urgent need to have a bowel movement
- Diarrhoea or constipation, or both
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vomiting blood
- Excessive wind
- Discomfort or pain when swallowing
- Intolerance to certain foods
- Reduced appetite
- Swollen abdomen
- Pain or tenderness when you touch your abdomen
- Severe heartburn
- Abnormal skin tags (on the buttocks)
- Burning or itching of the anus
- Mouth sores
- High temperature
- Fever or chills
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Back ache
- Swollen or painful joints
- Difficulty sleeping
- Unintentional weight loss
- Anxiety and depression
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as you can. The sooner you visit a doctor, the quicker you can get an accurate diagnosis and receive the help, care and treatment you need.
If you suspect your bowel is obstructed (blocked), this is a medical emergency, so you should go to your local Accident & Emergency (A&E) department straight away.
Where do you feel bowel pain?
Usually, bowel pain presents itself in the stomach or abdomen, especially after eating food, or when passing a bowel movement. It is common to feel pain around the belly button, or on the lower left and lower right sides of the abdomen.
Some people may also feel a sharp, stabbing pain, or dull ache in the rectum, just above the anus.
When should I see a doctor with bowel problems?
Most of us get an upset stomach every once in a while, which can go away on its own.
However, if your symptoms are persistent, and worsen over time, then it is important to visit your GP as soon as possible.
Your doctor will ask you questions about how your symptoms started and how severe they are. They will also ask you about your medical history, any medicines you are taking, and whether anything makes them better or worse.
From there, the GP may give you a diagnosis and recommend any treatment, or they may refer you for further testing. You may need to submit a stool sample, or take additional tests, such as a colonoscopy.
The earlier you visit a doctor, the quicker you can access advice, treatment and support.
How can I keep my digestive system healthy?
There are many things you can do to maintain good digestive health, such as:
- Follow a high-fibre diet, to maintain bowel health and promote healthy gut bacteria. Foods that are rich in fibre include whole grains, avocado, prunes, apples, dates, berries, lentils, almonds, sunflower seeds, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta and rye bread.
- Limit your intake of fatty foods, such as fried foods, bacon, processed meals, baked goods such as biscuits and pastries, sugary desserts, heavy cream and butter.
- Eat smaller, frequent meals, rather than 3 large, heavy meals. This places less stress on the gastric system at any one time.
- Drink plenty of water, to stay hydrated and aid digestion.
- Stay active. Regular exercise stimulates the gut and increases blood flow to the muscles, allowing food to pass through the digestive system much quicker, even when you are resting.
- Add probiotic supplements and fermented foods (such as yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut) to your diet, to help balance good bacteria within the digestive tract.
- Make sure you get enough sleep, as your digestive system continues to work at night.
- Do not eat heavy meals before you fall asleep. Your digestive fluids and stomach acids are still active during sleep, so you may wake up with heart burn, acid reflux or indigestion if you overeat before bed.
- To cope with stress or anxiety, make the time to relax, unwind and enjoy leisure activities. Stress can slow down digestion and cause bloating and pain; while in others, it can speed up digestion, by causing diarrhoea and frequent toilet trips.
- Avoid skipping meals, as this will cause your blood sugar to drop and your metabolism to slow down, while it can also result in you overeating at your next meal.
- Eat slowly, chewing your food thoroughly before your swallow. When we rush our meals, this creates extra pressure on the gastrointestinal tract to do its job when it isn’t fully ready.
- Cut down on smoking, as it can be harmful for the digestive system. Research has shown that smoking significantly increases your risk of developing acid reflux, heartburn, stomach ulcers, Crohn’s Disease and gallstones.
- Drink herbal teas which help improve digestion and soothe bloating, such as ginger tea, peppermint tea, chamomile tea and fennel tea.
- Visit a doctor as soon as you experience uncomfortable, persistent symptoms.
- Take an at-home bowel health test, for early detection of issues such as colon cancer.
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We hope we have answered the question ‘how do you know if you have damaged your bowels?’