After you eat, a healthy gut absorbs the usable nutrients from the food you’ve consumed and rids your body of the rest. Bowel movements allow that disposal to happen.
If your bowel movements have changed recently, it might be time to seek medical support. Thankfully, many causes are treatable.
Dr. Sreelatha Reddy and the team at Houston Gastrointestinal & Liver Clinic, P.A. in Sugar Land, Texas, provide compassionate care for your digestive health needs, including diagnosing and treating problematic bowel movement changes.
Here’s a close look at five bowel movement changes you shouldn’t ignore.
1. Blood in your stool
Bloody bowel movements, also known as rectal bleeding, can indicate numerous conditions that not only need treatment but may lead to complications if ignored.
Such conditions include:
- Angiodysplasia, which involves abnormal blood vessels
- Benign and cancerous tumors
- Colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease
- Diverticular disease, when small pouches in your colon wall push outward
- Esophagitis, which commonly causes acid reflux
- Gastritis, caused by medication overuse, illness, and injury
- Hemorrhoids, or inflamed veins around your anus or lower rectum
- Mallory-Weiss tears, brought on by severe vomiting
If you’re bleeding quite a bit or routinely, you could develop anemia. Severe blood loss might even require a blood transfusion. Other possible complications of rectal bleeding include infection, fatigue, and dizziness.
2. Hard or dry stools
Hard or dry bowel movements can happen for a variety of reasons. Though seldom dangerous, hard and dry stools sometimes derive from an illness or disorder. In either case, treatment or lifestyle changes may be in order if your symptoms persist.
Common causes of hard, dry stools include:
- Anxiety and trauma, especially in kids
- Hormonal changes linked to pregnancy
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Lacking fiber in your diet
- Pelvic floor dysfunction
- Reduced exercise
- Taking multiple medications
Medical conditions associated with hard, dry stools include diabetes, hypothyroidism, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
3. Too few bowel movements
Too few bowel movements, or fewer than three per week, means you’re constipated. If your symptoms persist, or the bowel movements you do have are difficult to pass, you’re dealing with chronic constipation.
When that happens, you might end up straining excessively to pass stool — which raises your risk for complications, such as hemorrhoids and anal fissures.
Chronic constipation can stem from:
- A low-fiber diet
- Blockages in your colon or rectum
- Nerve issues in your colon or rectum
- Pelvic muscle problems
- Poorly managed stress
Regularly ignoring urges to have a bowel movement can also fuel constipation.
4. Watery bowel movements
Loose or watery bowel movements may indicate a more serious issue; having three or more per day is considered diarrhea. The occasional bout of diarrhea is common and usually not cause for alarm, but you shouldn’t ignore ongoing and severe symptoms.
Common causes of diarrhea include:
- Certain medications, such as cancer drugs and antibiotics
- Crohn’s disease
- Food intolerances and sensitivities
- Food poisoning
- Viruses, like flu and rotavirus
Unmanaged diarrhea can lead to intense dehydration, often an issue for kids, older adults, and people with impaired immune function.
5. Mucus in bowel movements
Large amounts of mucus in your stool, which may accompany diarrhea, could indicate an intestinal infection. If you notice both blood and mucus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or even cancer could be to blame.
A small amount of mucus probably isn’t a concern, but you should contact our office if you notice increasing or large amounts.
To learn more about bowel movement changes or if your own shifts require treatment, call Houston Gastrointestinal & Liver Clinic, P.A. or request your appointment online today. After a comprehensive exam, we can diagnose your condition and recommend next steps.