What are bowel problems?

Bowel problems comprise a number of different illnesses or abnormalities that affect the gastrointestinal tract. These include intestinal obstruction, structural abnormalities of the bowel, celiac disease, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), infections, tumors, and irritable bowel syndrome. Symptoms of bowel problems include abdominal pain and spasms, gas, bloating, inability to defecate or pass gas, rectal bleeding, loose and watery stools, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.

The passage of food residue and waste products through the intestines can be interrupted or halted by the presence of a bowel obstruction. The cause of the blockage can be mechanical, meaning that there is a physical obstruction. Sources of mechanical obstruction include scar tissue, adhesions, foreign bodies, gallstones, entrapment through a hernia, tumors, fecal impaction, and volvulus (twisting of the intestines). Ileus, a malfunctioning of the bowel’s motility, is another type of obstruction. Causes of ileus include electrolyte imbalances, gastroenteritis (inflammation or infection of the stomach and intestines), appendicitis, surgical complications, and obstruction of the mesenteric artery, which supplies blood to the abdomen.

Bowel problems may also occur as a result of problems during fetal development in the womb. For example, malrotation, or failure of the bowel to properly rotate in utero, can cause a blockage or twisting. Malrotation can also result in an incomplete attachment of the mesentery, which secures the placement of the bowels in the abdominal cavity, thus weakening or otherwise destabilizing the bowels. Intussusception, in which one part of the bowel collapses into an adjoining section, is another anatomical problem. Intestinal surgery that removes part of the bowel can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, a condition called short bowel syndrome.

Other conditions affecting the intestine are a result of inflammation, tearing or ulceration, and infection. These include diverticular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Bowel problems are usually not an emergency situation, but persistent diarrhea, a common symptom, can result in serious dehydration or other serious symptoms. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, inability to pass stool or gas, or vomiting blood.


What other symptoms might occur with bowel problems?

Bowel problems cause a number of different symptoms, depending upon the exact cause.

Common intestinal symptoms of bowel problems

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling, distension or bloating
  • Absent bowel sounds
  • Bloody stool (blood may be red, black, or tarry in texture)
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Inability to def... Read more about bowel problemssymptoms


What causes bowel problems?

Bowel problems have a wide variety of causes, including structural abnormalities, infections, inflammations, surgical complications, medication use, and lifestyle factors such as diet.

Structural causes of bowel problems

Structural abnormalities of the bowel can be present at birth, acquired throughout life, or those caused by surgery. Examples include:

Read more about bowel problemscauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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