People often experience temporary changes in bowel habit with or without abdominal pain and this is invariably harmless.
If a change in bowel habit persists with or without pain or discomfort in the abdomen it needs to be investigated further.
Several conditions can cause a change in bowel habit:
Various infections both viral and bacterial can result in a change in bowel habit. These are usually self limiting – that means that usually they get better on their own.
If a particular type of bug is isolated in your stool test then this might need to be treated.
This is wear and tear of the bowel and very common. As the bowel ages and works hard it stretches and sags much like other parts of the body. This leads to out-pouches of the bowel known as diverticulae. These diverticulae can get inflamed, they can bleed or can cause more severe complications.
For the most part this is a harmless condition and can be left alone. In rare circumstances surgery may be needed.
Inflammatory bowel disease
This is Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. These are inflammatory conditions affecting various parts of the bowel. They can present in many ways but most commonly present with a change in bowel habit and pain in the abdomen.
If these conditions are diagnosed you will need to be started on medications and will need regular follow-up with a specialist team.
Surgery may be needed in some circumstances.
Please see bowel cancer section.
Irritable bowel syndrome
This is often diagnosed in patients by various doctors. It is important to rule out other more serious conditions before a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is made.
Symptoms tend to be present for many years. You might have diarrhoea, constipation or combination of the two. Certain foods may worsen the symptoms. Stress, anxiety and depression are often present and symptoms may be worse when these are particularly bad.
Once more serious conditions are ruled out simple dietary modifications can help with symptoms but unfortunately there is no simple cure and managing your symptoms may take many months.