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MEN IN THE BATHROOM: BOWEL HABITS

Don’t flush and rush. Don’t be afraid to look! Instead of flushing and rushing away from the toilet, take your time. Looking at your stools is an important health exercise because it can provide signs of things going wrong in your body, particularly if you are forty or over.

While Australians need not become obsessive toilet-bowl gazers, rushing to install European toilets with examination ledges, it is prudent to be aware of bowel habits so that unusual changes can be detected.

Men traditionally pay less attention to their health than women. They don’t talk about their bowels and don’t like to think about their stools. A survey conducted of Australian male war veterans found that 58 per cent never even looked in the bowl. Most didn’t look at the paper, either.

The statistics for males and colorectal cancer are not encouraging. According to the NSW Cancer Registry, men have an overall lifetime risk of one in twenty-nine for colon cancer and one in forty-four for rectal cancer, while for women the respective risks are one in forty-one and one in seventy-nine. From 1973 to 1991, the incidence of colorectal cancer increased steadily among males,- the incidence in females also increased up to 1985, but decreased thereafter.

After extrapolating from the NSW figures, it is predicted that nationwide there will be 9900 new cases of colorectal cancer and 5300 deaths from this cancer this year alone (1996). By the year 2001 Australia can expect 11 700 new cases and 5800 deaths.

Given that a lot can be done if bowel cancer is detected early, it makes good sense for men to take an extra few moments in the bathroom and check that there is nothing amiss. Inhibition about examining stools and examining bowel habits becomes dangerous when it comes to denial about changes and subsequent delays in seeking medical help.

The first and’ most significant thing to look for in the toilet is evidence of blood. This can be on the paper, in the stool or in the water. A blue rinse in the water may obscure blood.

Any man over forty who develops rectal bleeding as a new symptom should see a doctor. Even if there is a small amount of fresh-looking blood, indicating that it may not be serious, medical attention should still be sought.

Bright blood may be from haemorrhoids or from a small tear in the anus from straining, but it may be from cancer or a precancerous polyp.

Although rectal bleeding arises far more frequently from benign lesions than from cancer, blood splashing in the water or stools streaked or mixed with blood must always be promptly investigated.

Some men may delay reporting blood because they’ve heard that early diagnosis of bowel cancer makes no difference to survival. This is not necessarily so. Bleeding is a symptom of early rather than late colorectal cancer and early detection may catch the cancer while it is still in the bowel wall, before it spreads.

Besides bowel cancer, other diseases can be traced from the stool, too. Black tar-like stools can indicate bleeding higher up, perhaps from an ulcer. Blood that was fresh in the stomach will go black as it travels through the body.

Bulky, fatty, offensive-smelling pale stools, which are difficult to flush because they are unformed and float, may be a sign the body is not digesting fat, which could mean a damaged pancreas. These stools often leave a rim of fat around the water. Mucus or slime in the bowl is rarely sinister and commonly results from irritable bowel syndrome.

As bowel habit depends on diet, any interpretation of changes must be done in conjunction with a review of what has been eaten before. For example, anxiety about red material in a stool may be relieved by remembering beetroot was eaten the evening before.

There is little doubt that fibre helps to prevent bowel cancer. A high-fibre diet produces floating stools because, as the fibre ferments, it produces gas, which lightens the stool. The bigger a stool the better, as people who have bigger stools are less likely to be constipated. Those who do get bowel cancer tend to have a history of constipation.

However, about 20 per cent of people never have a stable bowel habit. General advice is that if you are over forty and see blood in the toilet or have a change in bowel habit which persists for two or three weeks, you should see your doctor.

Remember – the common causes of rectal bleeding are haemorrhoids and anal lesions. Haemorrhoids are so common that they may coexist in patients with colorectal cancer or polyps. Colorectal cancer occurs infrequently in people under forty but its incidence increases progressively thereafter. It is Australia’s most common malignancy.

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One Response to “MEN IN THE BATHROOM: BOWEL HABITS”

  1. May 21st, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    d3 gold says:

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