Evaluation for Chronic Diarrhea and Constipation


What is it?

Diarrhea is a bowel condition characterized by an increased frequency of bowel movements, an increase in the looseness of stool, or the combination of the two. Chronic diarrhea occurs with higher frequency and intensity and is often caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease. Constipation is a bowel condition marked by an excessive absorption of fluid in the colon. When the colon absorbs too much fluid, the stool becomes too hard and dry, making it difficult to expel from the body. Constipation occurs either because the colon absorbs fluid too quickly or because the feces is moving too slowly through the colon.

How to Prepare

An evaluation for chronic diarrhea or constipation is straightforward and may involve any number of tests. A patient should be prepared to discuss his or her eating habits, recent changes in lifestyle, and bowel problems. A patients should also inform the doctor of any medications that he or she is currently taking. Sometimes, doctors require patients to take a laxative or special medication before the evaluation for testing purposes.

What happens during the process?

An evaluation for both conditions may include an extensive number of tests. In addition to a general physical exam and a digital rectal exam, doctors may also run a series of blood, urine, and stool tests. These tests are used to search the body for systemic conditions as well as infections. Doctors may also perform a colonoscopy, a sigmoidoscopy, or colon speed tests using different imaging technologies. It is not uncommon for the doctor to place a patient on an elimination diet, which involves the removal of certain foods from the patient’s life to determine the cause of constipation or diarrhea.

Risks and Complications

* Allergic reaction to medication or sedative

* Rarely, the colon can be damaged during a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy


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