What Are the Signs of Bowel Problems?
Did you know that the bowel is one of the longest organs in the human body? Fun fact: the surface area, if laid out flat, would cover two whole tennis courts!
Everything we eat and drink affects our bowel health, which is why bowel problems are among the most common reason for doctor visits in the UK.
In this article, we will outline exactly what are the signs of bowel problems and answer a few questions you may have on the topic.
What is the bowel and what does it do?
The bowel (or intestine) is a long, continuous tube, running from the stomach to the anus. Split into the small bowel and the large bowel, it plays a key role in digestion, as well as in fighting germs and regulating the body’s water balance.
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.
Then, the leftover waste from the food is stored in the bowel, until they are emptied from the body in the form of a bowel movement.
What are the signs of bowel problems?
There are many tell-tale signs which indicate that there may be something wrong with your bowel.
So, what are the signs of bowel problems? Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Blood in your stool or on toilet tissue
- Severe pain or discomfort after eating
- Severe stomach/abdominal pain or cramping, which does not go away
- 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
- Bloating, or discomfort and pain when swallowing
- Intolerance to certain foods
- Reduced appetite
- Swollen abdomen, or pain/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
- 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 quickly as possible. The sooner you visit a doctor, the quicker you can get an accurate diagnosis and receive the help, care, support 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.
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 move 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, frequently 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).
What is bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer (also known as colon or rectal cancer) refers to cancer that begins in the large bowel.
What happens is that a clump of cells called polyps develop in the inner lining of the colon (large bowel). If you have polyps growing inside you, this does not mean you will develop cancer. Polyps can be non-cancerous and they can go away on their own.
A few polyps may continue to grow, which eventually develop into bowel cancer, over a period of several years.
If bowel cancer is detected early, then the right treatment can cure bowel cancer and stop it from coming back.
Can I take a test to see if I have bowel cancer?
Yes, you can take an at-home test, which detects whether there is blood in your stool. This aids in the diagnosis of bowel cancer.
Remember, the earlier you take action if you experience any unusual symptoms, the better it will be for your health.
This self-test is a rapid lateral flow test for the detection of human occult blood in faeces.
You can take the test in minutes, and then send it to our accredited lab for analysing, using the instructions provided. You will receive your test results and any recommendations very quickly, within just a few days, via email.
Click here to shop our Instant Bowel Cancer Home Test.
What habits are bad for the bowels?
To keep your bowels healthy, keep the following tips in mind:
- Try not to strain when having bowel movements, because this can result in swelling, bleeding, pain, piles, or anal fissures.
- If you are not having enough bowel movements (less than 3 times a week), then you need to add more fibre to your diet, to make sure you are emptying your bowels more regularly.
- Avoid lying down immediately with a full stomach- this can interrupt your sleep, cause gastrointestinal discomfort and may worsen symptoms of heartburn and indigestion.
- Don’t take medications at the incorrect times, as this could bring on side effects such as constipation or diarrhoea. For instance, if the packet instructions advise you to take the tablets at meal times only, don’t take them on an empty stomach.
- Never take too many laxatives- this can cause diarrhoea, blockages, and unbalanced salts and minerals in your body.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, sipping slowly and alternating with water, to pace yourself.
- Drinking too much alcohol can lead to delayed gastric emptying, which can result in dangerous blockages.
- Cut down on smoking, as this can aggravate heartburn, increase your risk of stomach ulcers and digestive cancers, and throw your gut bacteria off balance.
Read more content like this
To learn more about bowel health, health tests, Covid testing and travel testing, click here to read our blog articles on:
- What Age Does Bowel Cancer Start?
- How Do You Know if You Have Damaged Your Bowels?
- Can I Enter the UK with an Antigen Test?
- What Is an In-Clinic Antigen Test?
- Do I Need an Antigen Test to Travel
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Click here to purchase our Instant Bowel Cancer Home Test, which aids in the diagnosis of bowel cancer.
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We hope we have answered the question ‘what are the signs of bowel problems?’
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