Bowel habit changes - Constipation/Diarrhoea

There are many reasons why bowel habits may change. Diarrhoea (a looser and more frequent bowel motion) and is commonly due to infections (often "food poisoning"). Usually this gets better within a few days.

If it is persistent (for more than two weeks) or if associated with blood in the bowel motion then review by family doctor is appropriate as further investigations may be needed.

Constipation (a change to harder and less frequent bowel motions) has many causes such as medications, change in diet, change in lifestyle and travel. It is divided, with overlap, into issues of stool consistency (hard, painful stools) and issues of defecatory behavior (infrequency, difficulty, straining). Self-medicating with stimulant laxatives is often associated with habituation, and gradual
loss of effectiveness. If a change is sudden and there is no obvious cause then bowel investigations may be needed. Increasing fibre in the diet (fruit and vegetables) and reviewing medications will resolve the issue for most people.

Alternating constipation and diarrhoea. This is a pattern most often seen in people with irritable bowel syndrome. If it is a change that has occurred in people over the age of 50 or the symptoms are severe or progressive then referral for investigation may be needed.

Investigations will usually be determined by your doctor but may include bowel motion sample checks for infection, blood tests and colonoscopy.