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What are the symptoms of bowel dysfunction?

Bowel movements (poo) should be moist and well formed (not too hard and lumpy and not too soft and mushy) It should be easy to pass without straining or pain. You should feel empty afterwards.

Loss of bowel control

This may show in a variety of ways:

  • Leakage of stool/poo: this can involve staining in your pants or leakage on the way to go to the toilet.
  • Leakage of mucus: this may leak in your pants without you noticing it is happening.
  • Inability to control flatus (wind).
  • Urgency when passing stool: having to rush to toilet as soon as you feel the urge and sometimes not making it in time.
  • Difficulty wiping your bottom clean and having to wipe repeatedly.

Difficulty in having your bowels open

You may feel that you are unable to have your bowels open although if feels as if you want to go.  This may be due to constipation

Symptoms can be:

  • You have to strain a lot to have your bowels open/poo.
  • Your bowel movements/poos are hard and lumpy.
  • You feel that you have not fully finished having your bowels open/ having a poo, even though no more will come out.
  • You feel bloated and your tummy may feel uncomfortably swollen and full, and also feel some discomfort and pain.
  • You may have your bowels open/poo less often than is usual for you.
  • You may pass foul smelling wind.
  • You may have a bad taste in your mouth and bad breath.
  • You may have a decreased appetite.
  • You may feel lethargic.
  • You may leak liquid from you back passage or have loose stools/poo.

Other bowel dysfunction problems can cause changes to bowel habits which come and go, and may impact upon how you generally feel. There may be times when your bowels work normally for you, and times when you are constipated or have diarrhoea (watery poo) and loose stools (runny poo). Other symptoms that can be associated with bowel dysfunction problems are:

  • Stomach pain or cramps, which are usually worse after eating and better after having your bowels open.
  • Feeling bloated and have pain when your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen.
  • You may be constipated.
  • Your symptoms may be triggered by eating or drinking.

You should seek advice from your GP and discuss your symptoms if you experience and if the following, or a mix of the following symptoms for 3 weeks or more:

  • A persistent change in your bowel habit – having your bowels open more often, with looser, runnier motions and sometimes with abdominal (tummy) pain as well
  • Blood present in your stools/poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids)
  • Having tummy pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in you not eating as much as you usually would, and you losing weight without trying.

Bowel obstruction (bowel blockage) symptoms require urgent action

Sometimes, your stool / poo may not be able to pass through your bowel as the bowel is blocked. This is known as bowel obstruction and requires urgent emergency action.

Symptoms of a bowel obstruction can include:

  • Abdominal (tummy) pain which can come and go and occasionally is severe. The tummy pain is always brought on by eating.
  • Losing weight without trying to, along with persistent abdominal pain.
  • Constant swelling of the tummy along with abdominal pain
  • Being sick (vomiting) along with constant abdominal swelling

If you suspect you have bowel obstruction go to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital.

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