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Altered Bowel Habit


The bowel is the lower part of our digestive system. It goes from the stomach until the anus. It is a hollow tube. The bowel is divided into the small bowel and the large bowel (colon and rectum). The small bowel is where food is digested and absorbed into the body while the large bowel absorbs water and forms stools or faeces. (picture 1)

Picture 1

What a normal bowel habit is?

A normal bowel movement is different for each person. You can usually think of your bowel habits as “normal” if you:

  • Have regular bowel movements (not necessarily once a day)
  • Have no symptoms of constipation or diarrhea
  • Can go without straining or using laxatives

If I have an altered bowel habit, should I worry?

Altered bowel habit are very common problems. Usually they are caused by certain changes in diet pattern or lifestyles. Infection from bacterial or virus can also cause bowel problems but it is usually self limited but may used antibiotics to treat.

What other serious causes of altered bowel habit?

  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Malabsorption syndromes such as Celiac Disease
  • Endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes
  • Colon Cancer
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Infection such as Typhoid fever, cholera etc

When should I worry if I have an altered bowel habit?

You should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigueness because of excessive diarrhea
  • Newly onset constipation
  • Severe or sharp abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Pus in the stool
  • Associated symptoms like weight loss, loss of appetite and fever
  • Abdominal fullness, bloating or swelling
  • Alternate constipation and diarrhea


  1. Cancer Research UK (http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk)
  2. American Family Physician (www.aafp.org/afp)
  3. Health Line (http://www.healthline.com/)
Last Reviewed : 13 May 2013
Writer : Dr. Zainal Fitri b. Zakaria
Accreditor : Dr. Muhaini bt. Othman