April is both Bowel Cancer Awareness and IBS Awareness month, which means we should be paying extra attention to our bowels and their function.
Our bowels play a vital role in our health, and taking care of them is an important part of healthy living. Despite this, many people are struggling to maintain healthy bowels. For instance, as many as 6.5 million people currently suffer from bowel problems and on average 182 people are admitted to A&E as a result of constipation.
Our busy modern lifestyles, stress and sitting for long periods at a desk can all have an impact on our bowels, but for many people lifestyle and dietary changes could make a big difference.
- Make small lifestyle changes
Aim to maintain a regular routine, to help establish a pattern for your bowel movements. Eating a balanced diet including some fresh fruit and vegetables as well as taking some daily exercise will help your body digest. This could be walking to the station or taking the stairs not the lift – it doesn’t have to be going to the gym. It is also important to try and eat regularly and not just have one meal a day.
- Keep hydrated
Drinking plenty of fluid is one of the things you can do to help keep your bowels healthy. Try to drink at least 1.5 litres (six to eight cups) of fluid per day, and be aware that coffee and alcohol, in excess, can irritate the bowels, as well as dehydrate you.
- Know what ‘normal’ is for you
One person’s normal bowel movements might not be the same as another’s, It does not have to be daily: some normal people open their bowel three times a day, some only three times a week. But it’s important to spare a thought for how regularly you are going to the toilet and if there is any discomfort or blood loss.
- Know what can increase your risk of problems
Constipation for example can be an unfortunate side effect of certain medications, as well as being a symptom of non-intestinal diseases. Thyroid problems, diabetes and multiple sclerosis can all lead to bowel problems. Do discuss alternative medications or the need to do possible tests for these illnesses with your GP.
- Speak to your doctor – earlier rather than later
If you have tried diet and lifestyle changes but are still suffering, it is a good idea to see your GP. A recent survey found that one in five people (19%) said they would be embarrassed talking to their GP about constipation.
It’s important to not ignore bowel problems as they play an important role in your overall health and wellbeing. Your GP can offer advice about medication, products and methods suitable for you. Seeing your GP earlier can avoid an unnecessary trip to the hospital later down the line.