Ask the experts... Bowel issues

With 10% of the population reporting that they are affected by bowel incontinence whilst another 20% saying that they live with constipation, bowel issues are a lot more common than you think. Despite this, there is still a taboo when it comes to getting treatment and seeking cures for bowel problems like IBS and diverticulitis. 

That’s why we teamed up with Bladder and Bowel UK, Guts UK, The IBS Network and ERIC - The Children’s Bowel and Bladder Charity - to answer your bowel-related questions.

If you missed the online expert clinic, here is a quick round-up of the best advice! 

How do we increase our good bacteria naturally? And what decreases good bacteria?

The best way to increase your good gut bacteria is to include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and wholegrain foods in your diet. This improves the amount of food for the prebiotics in your gut. Rich sources of prebiotics include onions, garlic, asparagus, artichoke, chicory and banana. It is generally difficult to advise one particular type over another because peoples gut bacteria does vary. You can read more about probiotics here.

Prebiotic foods are sometimes poorly tolerated by people with digestive complaints but they should only be avoided if they have been specifically advised against by a dietitian.


Does IBS cause autoimmune diseases and disorders?

IBS does not cause autoimmune conditions or diseases. One study has found that people who suffer from autoimmune conditions can also experience symptoms of IBS. This is a possible connection but much more research is needed to establish a conclusion. 

If you are testing for IBS, it is important to rule out coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes symptoms that are similar to IBS. This condition is linked to other autoimmune conditions like thyroid disease and type 1 diabetes. 


Does Parkinson’s affect your bowels? What can you do if you have Parkinson’s and need to regulate your bowels and treat pain?

Parkinson's can cause constipation either as a result of medication and/or due to its effects on the bowel's muscle strength. Also, the swallowing mechanism can get weaker, often meaning intake of fluids reduces which causes a risk of constipation. 

Stick to a varied diet and lifestyle with lots of fluids, fruits and veg and regular exercise to start with. If this doesn’t work, there is a ladder of different treatment approaches for constipation. Medications like linaclotide and prucalopride can be prescribed by a specialist. It also might be useful to discuss your symptoms with your local Parkinson’s disease team to make sure you are on the right medication and seeing the right specialists - a gastroenterologist might be best! 


I have diverticulitis and feel the need to empty my bowel but only pass very small amounts. What can I do?

It is important to know the terminology for diverticula as this can be quite confusing. The diverticula are small pouches that form in the lining of your digestive system. When these become infected it causes diverticulitis. If they are causing ongoing symptoms a little similar to IBS, you have diverticular disease. This information sheet explains the differences very well

It is important not to get constipated if you have diverticular disease. Discussing a laxative with your doctor might be appropriate if your diet is not achieving symptom resolution for you.

Diverticulitis can make people feel very unwell, they can suffer from a raised temperature, vomiting and severe pain. To prevent infection there are several lifestyle factors to account for such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and stopping smoking. If you suspect an infection you should visit your GP. 


Does IBS last forever?

IBS materialises in flare-ups and periods of remission - occasionally it can go completely. We always advise people to see their GP even if they have been diagnosed with IBS for some time if their symptoms change at all as new diseases can develop!

It is important to remember that medications can also cause IBS-like symptoms and you should ask your GP about any side effects of your medications. If your medication isn’t linked to your bowel concerns, a wider investigation of your symptoms should be carried out. 


Which foods will help my bowel movements?

You can try a tablespoon of linseeds/flaxseeds or chia seeds in your breakfast cereal, soup or salads but please do ensure that you drink a cup of fluid when you do to help the fibre move through the bowel.

A really useful fruit to try is kiwi fruit. This has a similar effect to prunes in that it helps to keep fluid in the bowel and helps keep stools soft. It is also often better tolerated by people with digestive problems than prunes. Believe it or not, you can also eat the skin which increases the fibre content of the fruit by a third - wash it first of course!

If you are increasing your fibre consumption then you should increase your intake slowly so that your bowel can adjust to the new amounts safely.

Visit the clinic for more advice now!

If you or someone you know needs support with IBS and bowel issues now, please check out the talkIBS hub for more articles, support programmes and product reviews

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 5 May 2021
Next review: 5 May 2024