Symptoms / Change in Bowel Habit


Bowel habits can vary from person to person. This includes how often you have a bowel movement, your control over when you have a bowel movement, and the bowel movement’s consistency and color. Alterations in any aspect of these habits over the course of a day represent a change in bowel habits.

While some bowel movement changes can represent temporary infections, others may indicate greater cause for concern. Knowing when to seek medical help can prevent an emergency condition from worsening.


Changes in bowel habits can be caused by a range of conditions, from a temporary infection to an underlying medical disorder. Examples of chronic conditions that can cause changes in bowel habits include:

  • celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • diverticulosis
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • thyroid disorders
  • ulcerative colitis

Medications, including many antibiotics, can cause changes in bowel habits. Read the side effects on your medication’s package or contact your doctor or pharmacist if you have recently started taking a new medication and experience changes in your bowel habits. Taking excessive amounts of laxatives can also affect your bowel habits.

Test and Diagnosis

When you get medical attention, a doctor will take a medical history and ask you to describe your symptoms. You may be asked to provide a stool sample to test for the presence of blood if you are experiencing blood in your stool.

Additional tests that may be used to determine potential causes for changes in bowel habits include:

  • blood tests
  • colonoscopy, a test that views the inner lining of the colon to identify tumors, polyps, pouches known as diverticula, or areas of bleeding
  • CT scan to view tumors or other bowel irregularities
  • X-ray imaging to view trapped air in the bowel


Changes in bowel habits are treated based on the underlying cause your doctor identifies. If bleeding is a concern, a gastrointestinal specialist may repair the bleeding area or it may heal itself.

A doctor may recommend prevention methods if constipation is a concern. These can include:

  • drinking more water
  • exercising regularly
  • going to the bathroom when you have an urge (do not wait to use the restroom)
  • increasing your fiber intake

Other treatments will depend upon your specific diagnosis.

    Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified doctor or other healthcare professional. ALWAYS check with your doctor if you have any concerns about your condition or treatment.

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    Spire Dunedin Hospital

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    0118 902 8161

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