Bowel problems can take many shapes and forms, ranging from minor to severe and from loose stools to constipation. The one thing that ties them together is their impact on the body’s gastrointestinal tract.
Sometimes, problems can simply relate to bowel movements, such as incontinence at one end of the spectrum and constipation at the other. These issues can often be resolved with simple medications or medical procedures. Other times, bowel problems become more chronic. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have persistent pain and cramping in the abdomen, along with symptoms like loose stools or constipation a good deal of the time.
Other disorders of the bowel are even more serious and might be autoimmune disorders, in which the body’s immune system is attacking the gastrointestinal tract. This group of diseases, often referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. At first, an IBD might exhibit symptoms that are similar to IBS, but over time, IBDs can lead to severe complications such as bloody stools, severe ulcers and sometimes cancer.
The causes of bowel problems vary greatly, depending on the type and severity of the problem. In the simplest, short-term cases, a bowel problem may be traced back to something you ate or a bacteria that is causing an illness in the gastrointestinal tract. More serious bowel problems, such as IBS and IBD, seem to have a genetic component to them. People with family members who have the disease are more likely to develop it themselves. There are also factors such as environment, diet and activity levels that seem to make some people more likely to have bowel problems than others.
Treatment of Bowel Problems
If a bowel problem is more of a chronic problem, meaning it's long-lasting, then the typical approach to treating it involves changes in diet or the use of medications. For some of the most severe IBDs, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, surgery to remove a portion of the bowel is sometimes needed to bring relief of symptoms and improve quality of life.
SOURCES: Bladder and Bowel Foundation; U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention