When you first visit your doctor, you'll be asked a variety of questions about your toilet habits to find out what is wrong with your bowel. and to what degree. Talking about it is easier for some than for others.
If you find talking about your continence control problems a daunting prospect, remember that healthcare professionals often talk to people about bowel and bladder control. It's a normal part of their working day.
How do I talk about bowel control?
There are a number of different ways to talk about your symptoms that will help the doctor, nurse or specialist assess your situation.
Use language and words that you feel comfortable with and try to describe your symptoms as accurately as you can.
For instance, if you only talk about one symptom such as diarrhoea it might sound like you've got a bout of stomach flu when what you mean is that you've had loose stool for several weeks.
Talk about your symptoms
If you're feeling pain, try and say what kind of pain it is, where you feel it and when it happens.
For instance do you have cramp or sharp pain? Is it in your stomach or lower abdomen? Perhaps it's lower down, at the back passage. Do you feel it before, during or after going to the toilet?
When you go out, do you always locate the nearest toilet before doing anything else? This is called toilet mapping.
Do you have a problem with flatulence? Tell the doctor if you pass gas often, if it causes pain and about the odour.
Can you feel the sensation of fullness and an urge to go to the toilet? When you get the urge, do you have to run for the toilet or can you wait and for how long?
Do you have to strain when on the toilet? If you leak, how often does it happen and how much soiling is there?
Talk about daily life
If you prefer to tell the doctor about your bowel issue in another way, you can talk about how your bowel problem affects your quality of life.
Do you have to do a lot of laundry because of leakage? Does the problem affect your personal relationships?
Do you avoid going out in case of an accident? When you do go out, do you always locate the nearest toilet before doing anything else? This is called toilet mapping.
You may be asked about your medical history, such as if you've had surgery.
You may be asked if you are currently taking any medicines and if you have any medical conditions, such as diabetes. Women may be asked about their experience of childbirth.
- You may be asked about your toilet habits: how often you have to go to the toilet; if you have any toilet access restrictions.
- You might be asked if you feel fullness in your rectum and can tell what's in there.
- You could be asked about the consistency of your stool.
- Do you strain when you're on the toilet? Do you have to run for the toilet as soon as you feel the urge?
- Do you leak? Do you use continence aids such as absorbent pads?
Talking frankly to your healthcare adviser is the first step towards identifying the problem and finding a solution.
If you have blood or mucous in your stool, if you feel pain, if you have irritations and skin problems around your anus, tell your doctor or healthcare professional.
Bowel diary and links
Keeping a diary for two or three days before going to the doctor can be extremely helpful. You can record your habits, such as what time you go, whether and when you need to run for the toilet, the consistency of the stool (watery, hard) and so on.
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- Help for people who care for someone with bladder/bowel problems
- Bowel Cancer Awareness Project Scotland: Bowel diary
What's wrong with me, doctor?
All this information will help both you and your doctor assess what you've got and to what degree. Talking frankly to your healthcare professional is the first step towards identifying the problem and finding its solution.