With April coming up, which is Bowel Cancer Awareness month, I felt it would be a good time to write a post on the importance of getting checked if you are worried about changes in your bowel habits.
Personally, I know my body so well so have a good idea of spotting when something just isn't right for me. It doesn't take me long to reach out to a doctor if I am worried & I think it's so important to remember that nobody deserves to feel in pain or struggle with their health. It's also important to remember that there are so many treatments available out there for a wide range of health problems & often, the chances of it being something serious are very small. Still, I always feel it's best to get checked if something is abnormal for you and/or persistent.
Breaking up with the "poo taboo" thoughts
I will hold my hands up and admit that I felt embarrassed to talk about my bowel habits around most people outside of a medical background until after my ileostomy surgery in 2011. Going through school & college having Crohn's Disease was definitely a challenge. I was bullied a few times but luckily my friends who did know the extent of my illness were so lovely & supportive, as were my teachers.
My parents pushed to get answers & a diagnosis for a considerable amount of time before I was diagnosed with Crohn's, aged 7. Still, I felt embarrassed. I had an accident all over the floor slap bang in the middle of the children's ward in hospital in front of everyone. I felt humiliated, mortified and helpless and hid in the toilet sobbing my eyes out wishing everything would end. I felt so alone, in pain & was terrified to go back out to the ward again.
None of the children laughed or made fun of me. The nurses made sure I was looked after, reassured me & I made friends with some of the children who had seen it happen. They helped me to see that is is okay to get help and that I deserved to get better.
I now don't feel embarrassed discussing my bowel habits. Everyone poos, whether into a bag or out your bum. It doesn't smell of roses, and nor should it.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. This is from my own experience and research. Always get checked if you are worried. It's better to have a few minutes of discomfort or conversations about poo than to end up seriously ill. Tests can be uncomfortable but in my experience, it is best to push through them and get answers then sit, worry yourself silly & potentially let things get serious & cause damage. Doctors are trained to talk about poo... It's not out of the norm for them, even if it may strange to you. Be reassured that you will be able to discuss your concerns with a doctor and don't need to feel ashamed or embarrassed. The right thing is to reach out and discuss those concerns, not ignore them.
Signs to look out for which are definitely worth getting checked
Possible indicators for seeking medical advice can be varied & aren't limited. You know your body better than anyone else. However, after doing some research, I've put together a list of reasons to get a doctor's appointment made:
- Abnormal bowel movements
- Rectal bleeding and/or mucus
- Abdominal pain and/or bloating
- Weight loss
Abnormal bowel movements
Diarrhoea - if it happens for more than a few days. It could be a sign of an infection or something more underlying.
Constipation - if you go less than 3 times a week, this may be worth seeing a doctor about if this is a change for you and/or it is accompanied by pain and other signs of being unwell.
Please note for both of the above that diet changes can cause these also and other things such as stress.
Rectal bleeding and/or mucus
There can be several explanations for this, but blood in your poo generally means there is blood somewhere in the digestive tract. It could be that you have a small tear that will heal outside or inside your bum, but again, it's best to get it checked as it is not normal.
Mucus can be a sign of a bacterial infection or it can be a sign of something more underlying. Again, stress can cause mucus in your poo but it shouldn't be something that happens often.
Abdominal pain and/or bloating
We can all experience tummy pain sometimes and it is often not a cause for concern and usually goes away. However, if you have stomach pain after eating or pain that increases in frequency and/or intensity, be sure to tell a doctor.
Abdominal pain and/or bloating can also be accompanied by feeling or being sick. You can also experience these without pain. Indigestion can cause nausea and/or vomiting but frequent indigestion or heartburn can be other signs to get checked out.
When feeling nauseous, sticking to a bland diet and eating more small, regular meals can help to settle it. Also, ensure you are hydrated & that you take time to sit after eating to let your food work its way down your digestive system.
Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. Fatigue is more of an overwhelming sensation, which often robs you off the motivation or energy to do anything. Fatigue also isn't usually greatly relieved (if at all) by sleep or rest.
There are many health conditions which cause fatigue such as Anemia, thyroid problems, Coeliac disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression and Anxiety. I struggle with fatigue and always have done with Crohn's Disease. Fatigue tends to be one of the main factors in living with Bowel Disease.
Many elements of life can cause weight loss such as stress or a bereavement. It can also be a sign of a health problem such as an eating disorder, your body being unable to absorb nutrients sufficiently, bowel problems and thyroid problems but this is not an exhaustive list.
The NHS states that:
"Your body weight can regularly fluctuate, but the persistent, unintentional loss of more than 5% of your weight over 6 to 12 months is usually a cause for concern. Losing this much weight can be a sign of malnutrition, where a person's diet doesn't contain the right amount of nutrients.
You should pay particular attention if you experience other symptoms, such as:
- loss of appetite
- a change in your toilet habits
- an increase in illnesses or infections"
Weight loss again was a big warning sign for me before getting diagnosed with Crohn's Disease & something I still struggle with. Generally, since a few years post surgery in 2011, I've managed to stay between 7 and 8 stone, but I really struggle to put weight on.
Get checked - sooner, rather than later
If you experience any of the above, I urge you to get checked. Hopefully, it's something temporary, but it's best to get it checked before it gets worse, either way. Doctors deal with blood, sick, wee & poo every day & I really understand the fear of having those conversations, but if you can push past it, it's so worth it to get answers & feel better. Short term discomfort of tests or having those conversations is so much better than the possible alternative. I very nearly died from Crohn's Disease (aged 19). This was partly because I was understandably petrified to have colonoscopies regularly as a child. My disease got very severe and doctors had been treating it in the wrong area for 10 years because of lack of test results and investigations revealing where the worst of it was. My ileostomy surgery saved my life.
This blog post hasn't been written to scare anyone...more to show the importance of getting checked. Thankfully, there is usually treatment & help out there that can help bowel problems. Don't suffer in silence.