Constipation and Diarrhoea

Author: talkhealth

Diarrhoea and constipation are very common conditions, and almost everyone will experience one or the other at some point in their life. In most cases bouts of constipation and/or diarrhoea are short lived and will pass in a number of days. However, for those who experience chronic constipation or diarrhoea it can be painful, uncomfortable and can disrupt day to day life.

Constipation

Constipation is a condition in which emptying your bowel occurs infrequently or in which the stools (a piece of faeces) are hard and small or where bowel movement causes difficulty and/or pain. Other symptoms can include stomach ache and cramps, bloating, nausea, and loss of appetite. Anyone at any age can experience constipation but it is known to affect twice as many women as men. There are a number of factors that could cause constipation, such as:

  • A lack of fibre in your diet
  • A change in routine or eating habits
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Waiting too long to pass a stool
  • Certain medications can have constipation as a side effect
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Pregnancy, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, gut disorders, etc.

If you suffer from constipation a number of simple lifestyle changes could greatly improve your symptoms. Increasing the fibre in your diet, drinking more fluids and carrying out more exercise can significantly improve your bowel habits. If these changes do not improve your symptoms, you may need to visit your GP to discuss treatment options. Your GP may prescribe a laxative (medication to encourage a bowel movement) to help with emptying your bowels completely. For more chronic situations, a suppository (dissolvable medication intended to be inserted into the body either through the rectum may be prescribed. Chronic constipation can also lead to other complications, such as haemorrhoids (piles), faecal impaction (a solid bulk of human waste that develops in the rectum due to chronic constipation) and bowel incontinence.

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is the frequent passing of loose or watery stools. It is a problem which many experience from time to time and, similarly to constipation, although unpleasant it is usually short lived. Some common symptoms you may experience are abdominal pain, fever and fatigue. By losing so much water in your faeces, dehydration is a serious concern which you should be aware of if you have diarrhoea – it can affect anyone at any age and is particularly dangerous for young babies. There are many different causes of diarrhoea:

  • Bowel infection (Gastroenteritis) – due to a virus (e.g. norovirus) or bacteria that may have been picked up from contaminated food (e.g. E. coli)
  • Food allergies
  • Medication
  • Conditions such as IBS

Diarrhoea usually clears up on its own after a couple of days. It is important during this time to keep drinking water to stay hydrated. If you are concerned that you or someone you care for is becoming dehydrated due to diarrhoea, oral rehydration solutions are a great way to replenish lost liquids quickly, and are widely available in chemists and supermarkets.

Diarrhoea is often spread by infection but it is possible to prevent the spread of the infection. Maintaining good levels of personal hygiene will reduce your chances of catching the infection, this is especially important if someone has diarrhoea in your home. Make sure to wash your hands properly, clean the bathroom regularly in between bouts of diarrhoea and refrain from sharing towels or utensils with anyone who is experiencing diarrhoea. If you have diarrhoea, you should avoid going to school or work for around 48 hours to ensure you do not spread the infection.

If you are at all worried about your symptoms or if your diarrhoea continues for over 14 days, you should make an appointment to see your GP for an assessment.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

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Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 10 February 2017

Next review: 10 February 2020