7 Reasons Your Bowel Movements Are “Off”
A normal bowel movement and bathroom routine is different for each person. The frequency, consistency, color, and the control you have over your bowel movements can change depending on certain conditions. It is important to note any changes in your regular bowel movements, especially if you are having pain, and to make your Gastroenterologist aware of them. The following situations can all affect your daily habits.
Your diet plays a huge role in the type of bowel movements you experience. Fiber is essential in any diet because it adds bulk. It also makes it easier for feces to pass through the intestines. If you do not include enough fiber in the foods you eat, constipation can occur. High-fiber foods include fresh fruits and vegetables with the skins still attached, bran, and whole-grain cereals and breads.
Have you experienced a change in your bowel movements after eating a particular meal that didn’t agree with you – causing diarrhea? A food allergy or sensitivity could be the culprit. Food allergies, such as those to tree nuts, can be diagnosed through a blood test; however, food sensitivities are more difficult to determine. They can be identified through eliminating certain foods from the diet, and then, reintroducing it watching for symptoms. Examples of food sensitivities include dairy, eggs, gluten, corn, and soy. People who have celiac disease have to avoid all foods containing gluten.
Drinking enough fluids during the day (at least eight glasses) keeps the stool in the intestines soft and makes it easier to pass. Fluids that are excellent at keeping you hydrated include water, tea, naturally sweetened juices, and water-dense fruits such as grapes and melon. Also, be aware that alcohol consumption both leads to dehydration and reduces peristalsis (the movement of the intestines that causes a bowel movement). If you find that your bowel movements are hard or you’re having trouble passing them, try increasing your water intake during the day.
Your bowel movements can be affected by stress that you experience during the day. Everyone has stress that is unavoidable in their lives, but when it is excessive, it can lead to problems with diarrhea and constipation as well as nausea and vomiting. Try finding ways to reduce or relieve your stress during the day with relaxation such as meditation or mindfulness or through a pleasant activity like reading or listening to music. Other factors important in reducing stress include getting enough restful sleep and eating a nutritious diet.
Lack of activity, especially exercise, is one of the main factors that lead to constipation. Aerobic exercise, which increases both heart and breathing rates, causes natural movement of the intestines and makes passing stools quicker and easier. Any type of exercise from walking and yoga to running or swimming is effective to keep the GI tract healthy.
The intestines are the home to many different types of bacteria. They are important in maintaining the health of the GI tract and play a part in the immune system. These “good” bacteria keep the “bad” bacteria in check and maintain proper functioning of the intestines. When antibiotics are taken for an infection, they kill both the “good” and “bad” bacteria sometimes leading to diarrhea. Most of the time, diarrhea is short-lived and clears up once the antibiotic is finished. However, a serious infection with the bacteria, Clostridium dificile (C. diff), can result, which causes severe diarrhea, cramping, and abdominal pain. The most important thing to do if you experience diarrhea while taking an antibiotic is to stay hydrated and drink as many fluids as possible.
Traveling for a vacation or your job can be exciting but can also wreak havoc on your GI system. Most people have a bathroom routine and may have trouble maintaining it when not at home. Both constipation and diarrhea can result from not being in the comfort of your own bathroom. Jet lag and changes in lifestyle and diet are factors affecting the GI tract, but a major culprit is traveler’s diarrhea. It is usually a bacterial infection that comes from eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Knowing the risks of the area you’re traveling to as well as thoroughly cooking all food eaten can help keep this infection at bay.
Disorders of the bowels can have many unpleasant symptoms including diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, nausea, and bloating. If left untreated, they can lead to more serious problems. Examples include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and celiac disease. These disorders have to be by your Gastroenterologist through a medical exam and testing aimed at determining the cause of your symptoms.
By trying to keep your bowel movements consistent from day-to-day, you will feel much better overall by eliminating the unpleasant symptoms you have. If you find that you are experiencing a change in your bowel movements, keep track of how often and the symptoms you are having so that you can make your Gastroenterologist aware. While everyone goes through a change in their habits occasionally, chronic symptoms can be the sign of something more serious. Share any concerns you have with your physician so that you can work together to alleviate the discomfort.