What are the symptoms of constipation?
You may be experiencing constipation if you have symptoms like:
- You have a bowel movement less than three times a week.
- It is difficult or painful to have a bowel movement.
- The stools are hard and dry.
- You feel that you’re not passing the whole stool.
If you’re constipated for over a week, you should call your doctor. Contact your doctor sooner if you see blood in your stools. You should also let your doctor know right away if you think that a new medication could be causing you to become constipated.
What are the symptoms of diarrhea?
With diarrhea, you may experience these symptoms:
- Your stools are watery and loose.
- The feeling that you need to have a bowel movement comes on suddenly.
Sometimes, diarrhea is accompanied by abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, or fever, depending on the underlying cause.
Adults should contact their doctor if diarrhea lasts more than a few days. However, diarrhea in babies and children can quickly cause dehydration. If your child has diarrhea for 24 hours or shows symptoms of dehydration, contact the pediatrician right away.
What can cause constipation?
Constipation can have many causes. Short-term constipation may be brought on by eating differently than you usually do, not drinking enough water, and even traveling or feeling anxious. However, when constipation becomes chronic, it is often caused by an underlying health condition. Possible causes include:
- A physical blockage in your small intestine, colon, or rectum (like an impacted stool, a tumor, or a hernia)
- A nervous system issue that affects the contractions that move stools through the intestines (which can occur due to a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease)
- Problems with the pelvic muscles
- Hormonal imbalances (like in diabetes, hypothyroidism, or hyperthyroidism) or pregnancy
What can cause diarrhea?
An acute bout of diarrhea can be caused by:
- An infection by a virus, bacteria, or parasite (from food or water that is contaminated)
- A medication that has diarrhea as a side effect
- Inability to digest certain substances, like lactose or fructose
Chronic diarrhea may occur due to gastrointestinal disease, like celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or inflammatory bowel disease (like colitis or Crohn’s disease).
How are the causes of constipation or diarrhea diagnosed in gastroenterology?
With both constipation and diarrhea, you will first be asked to describe your symptoms and have a physical examination with your doctor. A blood test may also be ordered, but depending on whether you have constipation or diarrhea, your doctor will be looking for something different.
In cases of constipation, a blood test can reveal hormonal imbalances that may be causing the condition. Imaging tests (like x-ray or MRI) are also commonly used to evaluate bowel obstruction. A colonoscopy, a colonic transit study, and tests that look at anal sphincter muscle function are other advanced tests that your doctor could prescribe in some situations.
In cases of diarrhea, a blood test can indicate whether an infection may be responsible. A stool test may then be used to identify the specific infection.
How is constipation treated by a gastroenterology doctor?
Changes to your diet and lifestyle are the first line of treatment for constipation. If these alone aren’t effective, medication (like laxatives) may be recommended. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary, as if constipation is caused by a physical blockage or structural issue. If there is an underlying condition causing your constipation, your doctor will also focus on diagnosing and treating it.
How is diarrhea treated by a gastroenterology doctor?
If diarrhea is caused by an infection, antibiotics or antiparasitic treatment may be prescribed, depending on the infectious agent. Proper hydration is also an important part of treatment. Your doctor will advise you to drink plenty of fluids or recommend a rehydrating solution.