Understanding Diarrhea and Constipation
Diarrhea and constipation aren’t popular topics of conversation, but they’re something everyone experiences at one time or another. While occasional bouts of these digestive issues usually aren’t anything to worry about, frequent occurrences of diarrhea or constipation—or a combination of both—can indicate a potential digestive problem that may require medical attention.
The causes of digestive issues vary, but they include age, infection, diet, food intolerance or poisoning, side effects of medication, stress, and structural issues.
You’re considered to have constipation when you have hard stool, stool that is difficult to pass or you have fewer bowel movements. There is no right number of daily or weekly bowel movements, but you should be familiar with your own frequency so you’re aware when your frequency slows.
Speak with a medical provider about constipation when you:
- Experience severe abdominal pain
- Feel blocked or like you haven’t fully emptied your bowels
- Have difficulty passing stools
- Have fewer than three bowel movements a week
- Notice lumpy or hard stools
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you may have a constipation problem that could benefit from the medical expertise at River’s Edge Hospital’s Urgent Care Department.
Diarrhea is stools that are loose and watery. Typically, diarrhea occurs after eating something that doesn’t agree with your stomach or when you have a virus, and an occasional bout of diarrhea isn’t usually cause for concern. Diarrhea, however, can become dangerous if it leads to severe dehydration or is the result of an infection or a more serious health issue.
Speak with a medical provider about diarrhea when you have:
- Black, tarry stool
- Blood in your stool
- Diarrhea accompanied by frequent vomiting
- A fever of 102 F or higher along with diarrhea
- More than 10 loose, watery stools in a two-day period (or 24 hours for children)
- Severe abdominal or rectal pain
- Signs of dehydration
If you regularly experience these symptoms, you’ll need tests to diagnose the cause so you can get proper treatment.
Do You Have a Serious Digestive Issue?
It’s virtually impossible to determine if you have a serious digestive issue based on symptoms alone. Instead, your healthcare provider will evaluate your symptoms and your medical history before deciding if additional tests—such as blood work, imaging studies or a colonoscopy—are necessary. Additional tests will be recommended if your healthcare provider suspects one of these serious issues:
- Crohn’s disease
- Fecal impaction
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Strangulated hernia
- Ulcerative colitis
These conditions are serious and often require more intensive treatment, which can include long-term medical management or surgery.
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