When it comes to our bowels — and their movements — we may not give them much thought. Of course, when things are not going well, we notice.
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However, bowel movements don’t just tell us about the health of our digestive system. This may sound strange, but signs of everything from diseases to stress may show up in your bathroom habits. The key is knowing what to look for — and what the signs may mean.
Here are five tips to encourage healthy bowels:
1. Don’t ignore rectal bleeding
The first thing most people worry about when they have minor rectal bleeding is that they have a cancer. Of course, colon cancer is also a concern. But it’s the cause of rectal bleeding only 1 to 2 percent of the time.
Two problems are usually responsible for blood on the paper, on the stool or in the toilet: hemorrhoids and anal fissures. The good news is that both problems are usually easy to fix. Find out what you need to know about rectal bleeding.
2. Be careful not to be overzealous when you wipe
A lot of people assume they have hemorrhoids. May their bottoms itch and they feel extra skin down there as they wipe. Must be hemorrhoids, right?
So they treat themselves with medicated wipes or cream. And yet the “hemorrhoids” don’t go away — they itch even more.
Often, the problem is, ironically, being too clean. What happens is a circular process. Filled with good intentions, you try to keep yourself scrupulously clean by using flushable wipes. But the unexpected result is that this leads to itching and the feeling that you have hemorrhoids. Are you overwiping? Find out what problems can mimic hemorrhoids.
3. Don’t treat the bathroom like a library
Think of your time in the bathroom as a necessity, not an extended escape. If your toilet has stacks of magazines or books on the water tank, consider moving them to another room.
Why? The more time you spend on the toilet, the more likely you will strain for bowel movements. Also, the seated position puts extra stress on your anal blood vessels. Both of these factors boost your risk of hemorrhoids. Find other ways to prevent hemorrhoids.
4. Get enough fiber in your diet
The goal is to eat 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day. The lack of fiber in the American diet is perhaps the major problem that leads to issues with constipation.
One of the challenges is that not all natural sources are equal in the amounts of fiber they contain, so you don’t always get a consistent amount of fiber intake every day, depending on what you eat. One day a bowl of oatmeal may do it. Another day a serving of broccoli may not.
Of course, each person’s needs are different, too, so you have to find what works best for your body. Constipated? Find more ways to avoid it.
5. Avoid dehydration if you have diarrhea
The biggest danger with a short bout of diarrhea is dehydration, or the loss of water and nutrients from the body’s tissues. You could become dehydrated if you have diarrhea more than three times a day and are not drinking enough fluids. Dehydration can cause serious complications if it is not treated.
The best way to guard against dehydration is to drink liquids that contain both salt and sugar. Find other ways to stop diarrhea.