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Did everything come out okay? Senior bowel issues

by Sue Lanza

Bowel problems can happen at any age but during the senior years they present additional challenges. Learn simple information about one of life's necessary functions.

Everything can be right with the world until suddenly you experience a wave of cramping that turns to an emergency run to the nearest bathroom. No one likes to discuss such matters but discuss them we must, as our overall health depends on it.

When we eat, we are not usually planning ahead and expecting bowel issues. What comes out the other end depends largely on a number of factors but having good bowel tone is an important one. As we age, many bodily functions may change due to overuse, stretching and decreased muscle tone. The bowel system is no exception with the intense process that takes place in digesting food and preparing waste for elimination.

Aging is only one way that a healthy digestive tract can be influenced. Here are a few other means that could cause loose bowel muscle tone:

  • Lack of exercise. Leading a sedentary lifestyle that does not include regular exercise can cause serious issues over time. Even muscles that help govern the contractions in the intestines called ""peristalsis"" need to be moved regularly for optimal working order.
  • Poor diet. Eating too much or consuming a fast food diet is like having impurities in your car engine. Over time, the car cannot possibly run properly.
  • Lack of fiber. Besides relying on a healthy diet, it should contain a daily ration of about twenty-five percent fiber. Most of us go about our days not even giving this vital nutrient a second thought.
  • Certain medical situations. Some diseases or conditions, such as stroke, hemorrhoids or prostate issues damage nerve fibers or muscles that are critical in good bowel elimination.
  • Using laxatives frequently. Overuse of these products or enemas may cause your bowels to lose the ability to perform independently.

These situations alone or in combination can cause a variety of bowel problems. Two common bowel reactions that let you know that something is wrong and also can contribute to further bowel tone deterioration are constipation and diarrhea.

Although constipation is a complaint in the senior population, it is really thought to be just a symptom of another issue. Simply put, constipation is a decline in the frequency of eliminating stool. This decrease in the number of visits to the bathroom for a bowel movement usually means that when you do visit the toilet, you are probably straining and struggling to pass harder stools over a longer period of time.

Many things that we discussed already such as improper diet can cause constipation. Particular medications, such as narcotics, can trigger constipation, so checking with your doctor for a stool softener could be a proactive move. Some folks even resist the normal urges to defecate, which contributes to constipation as well. Adding grain or fruits to the diet, drinking lots of good fluids like water and maintaining activity during your day can typically correct occasional constipation.

The opposite condition is frequent, less-formed bowel movements called diarrhea. Diarrhea can be sudden, resulting from a virus or food-borne contaminant, but in seniors it may be related to an absorbency problem based on the type of food consumed. The symptom of diarrhea is letting you know that a problem exists even if it is a temporary one. Cramping, nausea or dizziness often precedes diarrhea. The loss fluids during elimination requires that you avoid potential dehydration by increasing your fluid consumption.

For other than an isolated incident of constipation or diarrhea, it is vital to report your symptoms to your physician to learn if something more serious is at work.

To keep your bowel movements regular and of the proper, healthy consistency, be sure to maintain a moderate diet that includes lots of fruit and vegetable choices, as well as other fiber sources. In addition, stay active by daily walking and drinking water to refuel. Following this simple plan will keep you and your body in charge of your elimination, instead of the other way around.