Problems with bowel function are very common but not always very easy to discuss, with the result that many people suffer in silence. Bowel problems account for a large proportion of gastroenterology consultations. Gastroenterologists are skilled in making a careful assessment of the problem and selecting appropriate investigations where necessary to diagnose the problem, and advise about treatment. Investigation often includes blood tests, stool tests, and imaging of the bowel, either with colonoscopy or CT scanning.
Short-lived bowel upsets are commonly due to infections and usually settle spontaneously within a short time, but more persistent problems with diarrhoea, constipation, or erratic bowel function may require specialist evaluation. Many disorders are due to disturbance of the gut nervous system (eg irritable bowel syndrome), but other conditions involving inflammation or structural problems within the bowel (eg diverticular disease, inflammatory bowel disease) are not uncommon. A persistent change in bowel habit to one that is looser or more frequent than usual, for no obvious reason, is a recognised symptom of possible bowel cancer and should be investigated, especially in people over the age of 40.