How often do you use the bathroom in a week? What is the colour, shape, quantity and odour of your stool? These are all questions to be answered to properly understand your bowel habit. Generally, this is not a topic a lot of people are comfortable discussing for reasons best known to us. However it’s an important aspect of our health because a sudden change in your bowel habit may suggest the presence of underlying health issues that may require urgent medical attention.
A bowel movement is the final phase of the movement of food through your digestive tract. Your stool passes out of your body through the rectum and anus. Bowel movements are important because it is the body’s way of getting rid of the undigested parts of the food we eat. Without bowel movements, we would be storing up toxins that are potentially harmful to the body.
How often should one go to toilet? There is no hard and fast rule to this. Some people go once or twice in a day. Others, less frequently. However, moving bowel more than three times in a day or the absence of bowel movement for more than 3 days isn’t something that should be treated with levity.
Lol! Yes, it is normal for your faeces to smell. It just shows how active, the bacteria in your gut are. The smell of faeces is usually unpleasant however unremarkable. Very fowl smelling stools may be indicators of medical conditions such as indigestion, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis etc which will definitely require medical intervention.
Faeces are usually brown in colour due to the presence of bile produced in the liver which aids digestion. A change in colour of stool may indicate an underlying medical condition. Black stools, for example, are typically present amongst people with upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding. However some medications containing Bismuth salicylate and some vitamins may also cause darkening of stools. Pale or light coloured stools, though not very common, indicate a decrease in the production of bile which is most likely secondary to a liver disease. Red currant jelly stool (ie stools mixed with blood and mucus) in children below two years is an indication of a condition known as Intussusception.
Shape and Size
Normal stool is supposed to be smooth, soft and moulded into one whole piece. Narrow pencil-like or ribbon stools may indicate some form of intestinal obstruction. Hard, lumpy stools which come out like tiny rocks indicate constipation. Other symptoms to look out for include: bloating, excessive gas/farting and straining on defaecation.
CONSTIPATION AND DIARRHOEA
These are very common gut conditions that we all experience every once in a while. The average body takes between 18 and 72 hours to convert food into poop and pass it out. When this time is significantly shortened, the result is diarrhoea because the large intestine doesn’t have enough time to reabsorb all of the water. Chronic diarrhoea may lead to dehydration which is a very common cause of death amongst children under the age of five. However, with the invention of oral rehydration therapy (ORT), the number of casualties resulting from diarrhoea have greatly reduced.
Conversely, when transit time is lengthened, you may end up constipated because too much water has been absorbed, resulting in hard, dry stools. Constipation is defined as passing hard, dry stools that require straining efforts to move. It is typically accompanied by a decreased frequency in defaecation. Straining is not normal and so are feelings of incomplete elimination, bloating or sluggishness after using the toilet. Chronic, untreated constipation can lead to faecal impaction which is a serious medical condition. Laxatives should be avoided at all cost and used only as a last resort. If you must use a laxative, make sure it is used for a very short period of time.
Causes of Constipation
• not eating enough fibre such as fruit, vegetables and cereals
• a change in your routine or lifestyle, such as a change in your eating habits
• having limited privacy when using the toilet
• ignoring the urge to pass stools
• immobility or lack of exercise
• not drinking enough fluids
• having a high temperature (fever)
• being underweight or overweight
• anxiety or depression
• psychiatric problems such as those brought on by sexual abuse, violence or trauma.
Causes of Diarrhoea
These, on the other hand, vary with individuals. While some may react to dairy products, others react to high fibre diets. Notwithstanding, the most important thing is to know yourself and what works best for you. It is advisable to avoid foods that can trigger diarrhoea especially when embarking on a journey or preparing for that important event.
HOW TO MAINTAIN GOOD BOWEL HABITS?
What makes people not go to toilet as often as they should or more than they should?
1. Most people wait until they feel like it.
To maintain good bowel habits you must learn to train yourself like a child is potty trained. Imagine if you ate only when you felt like it, you’ll either be obese or too skinny. Plan to use the toilet either once in two days or more frequently depending on your urge.
2. Wrong sitting posture
I discovered that raising your feet some centimetres higher when you sit on the toilet seat helps relax your muscles and facilitate the passing of stools.
3. Irregular eating habits
From eating late at night to eating irregular quantities of meals, all these contribute in one way or the other to irregular visits to the toilet.
AVOID THE EMBARRASSMENT
Have you ever been at an outing and you suddenly felt the urge to use the toilet?
1. Try standing up. The more you sit, the more the urge.
2. Tense your butt cheeks. We all know how to do this by now.
3.Try to encourage bowel movement several hours before your event, then stop eating.
4. Try not to drink coffee.
5.Don’t over think it.
6. Distract yourself mentally by listening to music or doing something else.
7. If you really can’t hold it, just do it! Look for somewhere convenient and poop. There are many dangers to keeping in poop for too long that are not so nice to experience.
You can pad the toilet with tissue paper to avoid splashing and noise. Flush frequently to reduce the smell. And if you are using a bucket to flush, lift it very high when pouring to increase force and facilitate flushing.
You can never really tell how much an unexpected change in bowel habits can affect you especially if you have never experienced one. It is important to pay attention to what goes down in your gut because as you should know by now, “A comfortable tummy is a comfortable you.”