Behind Bowel Issues, From Diarrhea to Constipation

Your body is amazing at letting you know when something isn’t going right. Hunger reminds you to get nourishment. Pain warns you to avoid certain activities so your body can heal. And then there’s pooping, a message from inside that says a lot about your gut health.

We typically take these messages for granted, until they change. When they do, it’s usually due to diarrhea or constipation, the most common disrupters of “regular” digestion. On average, four million people in the U.S. experience frequent constipation, and most U.S. adults endure acute diarrhea at least once a year.

It’s likely you’re included in these numbers.

However, frequent bouts of diarrhea or constipation – separately or at the same time – might signal an underlying health problem that deserves attention. Before exploring the possible reasons, let’s spell out what a “normal” movement is.

How to Know When You are “Regular”

First off, while everybody poops, we don’t all go at the same rate. Research suggests the “rule of three,” which means having a movement three times a day to three times a week. If this describes your activity, consider yourself a regular.

However, the appearance and consistency of stool also can reveal a lot about your digestive health. For most people, a bowel movement is brown, formed, and passes out easily.

Healthy bowel movements mean you have healthy digestion. When the gut is distressed, it typically lets you know in two ways: diarrhea and/or constipation.

The Common Causes and Signs of Chronic Diarrhea

You know you have diarrhea when bowel movements are more loose, watery, and frequent than usual. You may also experience stomach cramps and bloating. If these symptoms linger for a day or two, you shouldn’t worry. But if diarrhea persists, it might be a warning of other health issues.

Chief among them:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome – A digestive disorder in the gastrointestinal tract that causes abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel movements.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease – A persistent inflammation of the digestive tract. It can occur in the colon, which is colitis, or deeper in the intestines, which is Crohn’s disease.
  • Infection – Bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms can invade the digestive system. Symptoms include blood or mucus in the stool, light-headedness, fever, and vomiting.
  • Food allergies or sensitivities – This is when the immune system negatively reacts to certain foods, including gluten or wheat.

How to Know if You’re Chronically Constipated, and Why

Constipation is typically recognized as having three or fewer movements a week that are hard and/or small, and are often hard to pass. Like diarrhea, short-term constipation shouldn’t concern you too much. But if it persists for several weeks or more, it might be chronic.

Causes include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome – Yes, this condition can cause both diarrhea and
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction – When the pelvic floor muscles aren’t able to relax and coordinate a movement.
  • Lifestyle behaviors – Diets that lack fruits, vegetables, other high-fiber foods, and fluids, tend to create stools that are harder, slower, and more difficult to pass.

What You Can Do Outside the Loo

Diarrhea causes dehydration and makes it harder for the body to absorb nutrients. It’s a good idea to drink plenty of non-alcoholic, decaffeinated liquids, ideally fortified with electrolytes.

You can ease constipation by drinking lots of fluids, changing your diet, exercising, and/or taking laxatives or fiber supplements. Also, some medications can cause constipation or diarrhea, so it’s worth checking the side effects.

If diarrhea or constipation gets worse despite these efforts, or doesn’t resolve itself within two weeks, call your physician. We can work to diagnose the issue behind the irregularities and prescribe treatment, so you can get ahead of the movement.

Want to learn more about healthy digestion? Visit our web pages dedicated to the causes, symptoms, and treatments of diarrhea and constipation.