A Change in Bowel Habits

Bowel Habits

Written by Nilfar Karimova, MD

One of the traditional seven warning signs of cancer is a change in bowel habits. This is for good reason. Once a person is past middle age, his or her bowel habits are quite well ingrained. They do not change significantly for any period of time unless there is a significant cause.

Colon cancer is one of the most common causes of a persistent change in bowel habits. There are about 165,000 new cases of colon cancer each year in the United States.

Any change in bowel habits that lasts three weeks or longer should be evaluated by your physician. The changes may include diarrhea, constipation, passing mucous or blood, or even symptoms such as urgency.

If you develop any of these changes, your doctor will do a general exam, including blood tests which may indicate anemia. Anemia is a common finding in colon cancer because of the microscopic but constant blood loss from the tumor.

Because tumors usually lose small amounts of blood, one of the most useful tests is to check for this blood in the stool. If any trace is found, you will need a look at the whole colon with an instrument called a colonoscope. This allows your doctor to see the lining of the entire colon. If it is perfectly clear, significant polyps are unlikely to develop in the next several years.

If the card tests are negative for blood, your doctor may recommend a flexible sigmoidoscopy, or "flex sig," which looks at the lower third of the colon.

Other common causes for a change in bowel habits include inflammatory bowel disease, hormonal changes, infections, parasites and side effects from drugs. These problems would also benefit from appropriate evaluation and treatment, so do not hesitate to consult your doctor about bowel symptoms.

Even though, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for colorectal cancer using fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy, in all adults who are having no symptoms, beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years. You can always decide with your doctor, if you need to be screen sooner and why.

"An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure." -Benjamin Franklin

Dr. Karimova specializes in Internal Medicine and Integrative approach to health. She offers specialized patient oriented health management along with standard care for maximum result.

Dr. Karimova practices at Medical Arts Clinic in Fairfield. To make an appointment, please call 641-472-4156.