Change in bowel habits
Bowel movements normally occur at approximately the same time each day. The feces (stool) itself should be soft enough that it can be passed wi...

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Definition

Bowel habits are the time, size, amount, consistency and frequency of bowel movements throughout the day. A change in bowel habits is any alteration in regular bowel function.

Alternative Names

Abnormal bowel habits, altered bowel function, altered bowel habit, change in bowel habits, change in bowel pattern, modification of bowel habits.

Synopsis

Bowel movements normally occur at approximately the same time each day. The feces (stool) itself should be soft enough that it can be passed without straining. Changes in our regular pattern – constipation or diarrhea – happen to all of us from time to time. If an altered pattern persists over time, it may indicate an underlying health problem and should be evaluated by a doctor. Bowel habits reflect one’s diet, fluid intake, exercise pattern and age among other factors.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Side effects of medications
  • Poor appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Colon cancer
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Anal cancer
  • Fecal impaction
  • Diverticulitis
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • AIDS

Diagnosis and Treatment

A thorough evaluation by a physician will be needed to determine the underlying cause of ongoing changes in bowel habits. Laboratory studies and x-ray studies may be done. Treatment will depend on the diagnosis.

Call your provider if:

  • You have sudden constipation and inability to pass stool or gas
  • Severe or sharp abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Pus in the stool
  • Bloating
  • Thin (in diameter) stools
  • A child goes three days without passing stool
  • An infant under two months of age is constipated
  • Unexplained weight loss

Written by: JC Jones MA, RN
Reviewed by: Paul Auerbach, MD
Written: September 18, 2007
Last Updated: September 30, 2007
Published By: Healthline Networks Inc.
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