Chronic diarrhoea can be a distressing and uncomfortable issue that can indicate a range of health issues. While most of the time, it points to a digestive condition, there are cases where it may be something more sinister.
Here, we’ll explore what chronic diarrhoea is, its common causes, and whether it could be a sign of cancer.
What is chronic diarrhoea?
Chronic diarrhoea refers to loose, watery stools that typically persist for more than four weeks. It can lead to dehydration and nutrient deficiencies due to the frequent loss of fluids and essential minerals.
Chronic diarrhoea differs from acute diarrhoea in its duration and potential underlying causes. While acute diarrhoea is often caused by infections or dietary factors and resolves quickly, chronic diarrhoea suggests a more persistent underlying issue.
The condition causes more than just physical discomfort, potentially affecting quality of life. It can interfere with daily activities, lead to embarrassment and anxiety, and cause you to frequently need to go to the bathroom.
Common causes of diarrhoea
Although, understandably, chronic diarrhoea can be concerning, it’s important to note that it isn’t usually anything serious. The most common causes include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Food intolerances or allergies
- Certain medications
- Gastrointestinal disorders
Many of these common causes relate to the digestive system’s function or reaction to specific stimuli, such as food or medication. However, it is still worth seeking medical advice if the issue persists for more than two to three weeks.
When might I need a colonoscopy?
Sometimes, a colonoscopy may be needed to investigate whether the problem could be linked to an underlying health condition. It might be recommended if there’s unexplained weight loss, blood in the stool, or a family history of colon cancer or inflammatory bowel diseases.
A colonoscopy is a simple, painless procedure that lets the doctor examine the inner lining of your large intestine for abnormalities. They can also take tissue samples for a biopsy if needed.
Before undergoing the procedure, your symptoms, age, medical history, and risk factors will be assessed. For example, those aged over 50, or with a family history of gastrointestinal cancers, may be more commonly advised to have a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a valuable diagnostic tool not only for identifying potential causes of chronic diarrhoea, but also for early detection of more serious conditions, including colorectal cancer.
So, while most of the time chronic diarrhoea isn’t something to be overly worried about, it’s important to seek medical advice.
If you are experiencing chronic diarrhoea, book an appointment with Mr Alan Woodward today. After an initial assessment, the cause of the problem will be identified, and Mr Woodward will talk through the treatment options available.