Alteration in bowel habit

One of the most important symptoms of abdominal disease is noticing a change in how ones bowels work. There is no such a thing as a “normal” bowel habit and everyone is different. Some people go to the toilet at the same time every day like clockwork, whilst others vary from going several times a day to those who go for long periods and do not open their bowels for days at a time. As long as this is the pattern for you and has been consistent over a long period of time there is probably nothing to be concerned about, however, if the way in which you open your bowel changes without reason you should consult your doctor.

There are a variety of causes for a change in the way one’s bowel functions. Probably the most common being infection (gastroenteritis) from either a bacterium such as salmonella or a virus such as rotavirus. These infections may result from “food poisoning” or may be due to an outbreak. They tend to be characterised by a combination of abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting but may result in a longstanding change in bowel function after the infection has settled. An alteration in ones regular medication may also change the way your gut works. A course of antibiotics is often associated with subsequent diarrhoea whilst other medicines such as antacids may lead to constipation.

There are a great many other causes of a change in bowel with some of the more commonly encountered ranging from alteration in the stage of life like pregnancy and older age to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, malabsorption, food intolerances, diverticular disease and following surgery on the gut to name a few.

A more worrying cause of a change in bowel habit is a bowel tumour. This tends to be associated with diarrhoea and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend that anyone with a change in bowel habit over the age of 60 towards loose stool, or that anyone above the age of 40 with such a change in their bowels and rectal bleeding should be referred to a specialist colorectal surgeon urgently.