Hesperian Health Guides
Other Problems with the Bowels
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Hard, dry, or infrequent stool is called constipation. There may be pain in the belly. Most constipation is easily treated.
Treatment and prevention
- Do not take laxatives or purges. They can be dangerous – especially for children.
- Eat fruit every day.
- Eat whole grains – such as brown rice or whole wheat flour – instead of white processed grains.
- Squat to pass stool.
- Walk, move, and exercise more. People who are old, weak, or sick need to move more too. You may need to help them. No one should lie in one position all day.
- Drink more water. Try to drink 8 cups or more each day.
If there is still constipation after a few days of drinking more water and eating more fruit and grains, try mixing 2 to 6 spoonfuls of wheat bran or psyllium husk powder, or a tablespoon of ground flax seed, with food or water. (If you mix with food, be sure to drink a glass of water too. If not, these foods full of fiber may cause more constipation.)
If dry stool is painfully blocking the rectum, you may need to remove it. Put a little oil, Vaseline, or soap on a gloved finger and gently remove the stool by hand.
Constipation is a common side effect of iron tablets and strong pain medicines like morphine and codeine. Follow the same recommendations listed above. As your body adjusts to the medicine, the constipation will usually get less.
Stool from the vagina
If stool “leaks” from the vagina, there is a hole between the intestine and the vagina, called a fistula. This is often caused by a long and difficult birth when the baby's head presses for too long against one part of the vagina. Fistula can also be caused by rape. More often, the hole will form between the vagina and the bladder, causing leaking urine, so fistula is described in detail with other problems of the urine system in Difficulties with Urinating (in development).
Blood from the anus
Bright red blood from the anus is most often a hemorrhoid. Get help if there is a lot of blood, if there are blood clots coming from the anus, or if there is pain.
Any blood from the anus (red, dark red, or black) can also be a sign of cancer.
- Stool that is black and looks like tar.
- Vomit with blood or that looks like coffee grounds.
Either of these signs means there is bleeding higher up in the intestine or in the stomach. This is always dangerous and requires medical help.