Bathroom Blues: Common Problems and Solutions
In this series:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that can affect the entire gastrointestinal tract. It is most often found in young women and symptoms may worsen due to stress or during menstruation. Typical symptoms of IBS can include bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea or constipation, or both. Symptoms may come and go over time and can alternate between diarrhea and constipation. If you experience these symptoms for an extended period of time, it’s important to talk to a gastroenterologist to see if you have IBS.
There are other symptoms that can be mistaken for IBS but may actually point to a bigger issue. If you experience any of the following, notify your doctor:
- A family history of other GI diseases, like colon cancer or polyps
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blood in the stools or rectal bleeding
- Nighttime symptoms that awake the individual from sleep
- Change in the symptom quality (e.g., new and different pain)
These symptoms are not an immediate cause for alarm, but it’s important to talk your gastroenterologist about them in case additional testing is needed.
While IBS can be an uncomfortable disorder, it is manageable. The main form of treatment addresses the symptoms of IBS through medication and by identifying factors that may make symptoms worse. While diet or stress do not cause IBS, they can intensify symptoms, which is why diet changes can help minimize adverse reactions. Specifically, the FODMAP diet has proven to help patients find the foods that cause flare-ups and avoid them.
Darren Wohl, MD, is a board-certified gastroenterologist at Alamance Gastroenterology, practicing at MedCenter Mebane and Alamance Regional Medical Center, and a member of the Cone Health Medical Group.
Diverticulosis is a condition in which small sacs or pockets form in the wall or lining of the bowel or colon. It is a common condition in adults that becomes more prevalent as we age, and approximately 58% of adults over 60 have the condition. Most people with diverticulosis do not experience any symptoms or complications due to the condition and may never be aware that they have it.
Diverticulosis can primarily lead to two complications:
- Diverticular bleeding - caused by weak spots in the blood vessels at the diverticulum (sac opening)
- Diverticulitis - small perforations or tears in the thin-walled sacs or diverticulitis
These 2 complications usually do NOT occur at the same time. Risk of developing either is low, about 5-15% during a person’s lifetime, but your risk increases as you age.
In some cases of diverticulitis, one or more of these pouches can become infected or inflamed causing severe abdominal pain, fever or a change in bowel habits. If you experience these symptoms, talk to your primary care physician or gastroenterologist. Your doctor will first start with a physical examination and may request imaging to confirm the diagnosis. Mild diverticulitis is easily treated with antibiotics and bowel rest, but severe cases may require surgery to remove damaged sections of the digestive tract.
Jay Pyrtle, MD is a gastroenterologist at LeBauer Gastroenterology and a member of Cone Health Medical Group.
Children and Constipation
Bathroom-related issues can be uncomfortable to talk about, but when it comes to your children, it’s important to watch for changes and discuss them with their pediatrician. Constipation is one of the most common bathroom problems for children, and while it isn’t usually serious, it can get worse if it isn’t caught early. If your child has infrequent bowel movements or hard, dry stools, they may be suffering from constipation.
Bowel movements are voluntary actions, meaning that children can control when they go. If a child experiences pain or discomfort when going to the bathroom, they may start withholding bowel movements to avoid that feeling. Unfortunately, withholding will only make the stool larger, harder and more painful. If you notice your child avoiding the bathroom, it might be time to talk to them or their pediatrician about constipation. Luckily, there are two easy ways parents can help relieve their children at home:
- Keep them hydrated – Dehydration can lead to hard, dry stool, but staying hydrated can help.
- Pay attention to the potty – Is it too tall or uncomfortable for a child to sit on? Position can help ease some their discomfort. Ideally, children should sit and have their knees rest above their hips, which is hard to do on an adult-sized toilet. Consider finding a smaller toilet or something that helps them sit more naturally.
Richard Quan, MD, is a pediatric gastroenterologist with Pediatric Specialists and a member of Cone Health Medical Group.