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You're Not Imagining It -- Self Isolation Is Wreaking Havoc On Your Bowel Habits

Have you been going to the bathroom more than usual or not been able to go at all? Self isolation could be to blame.

There are a number of factors that contribute to our bowel habits and if you've been suffering from bathroom-related problems during self isolation, you're not the only one.

According to the Continence Foundation, the period of self isolation introduced in mid-March may have worsened bowl issues including constipation and stomach discomfort -- leading many to question why is this happening?

No you're not imaging it, self isolation could be wreaking havoc on your bowel habits. Image: Getty

Speaking to 10 daily, Joanne Dean, Nurse Practitioner said, "changes to lifestyle habits and routines can often lead to a change in bowel habits."

Dean explains how this change in routine is causing bathroom problems, the signs to look out for and what you can do about it:

What is causing a change in bowel habits during self isolation?

Dean said that self isolation could cause you to experience new or worsened bowel problems, one of the most common being constipation.

"Constipation is when your bowel motions (poo) are less frequent and you have trouble passing them," Dean said, explaining a combination of factors could be causing this.

"Being more sedentary and including less fibre and fluids in our diet can cause or worsen constipation."

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Changes in diet could also be leading to constipation, including isolation snacking as well as eating more takeaway food that is high in fat.

"This may be causing people to experience diarrhoea," Dean said.

"In the long-term, a loss of electrolytes due to diarrhoea can cause other health problems."

Reproduced by Dr KW Heaton, formerly Reader in Medicine at the University of Bristol. ©2000-2014, Norgine group of companies. Image: The Continence Foundation of Australia

If you are experiencing heightened emotions of fear and worry during the coronavirus pandemic, this could also be playing its part.

"Anxiety, depression and grief are known to be linked to constipation," Dean said.

"Mental health concerns can also present as gastrointestinal (gut) issues. For example, Beyond Blue lists a ‘churning gut' as a symptom of depression."

What are some changes to look out for?

While some changes in bowel habits aren't a cause for concern, Dean said it is important to keep an eye on the colour, consistency and frequency of your stools.

"You should look for changes in colour, for example if your stool is pale, dark or if blood is present, as well as change in consistency, such as a change from firm to loose or liquid stools and vice versa," Dean said.

Longer or shorter periods between opening bowels, especially if associated with change in colour and consistency, and/or pain is another sign.

As bowel habits are individual you should also keep an eye on changes in your usual bowel movements and use the Bristol stool chart as a reference.

"Some people may only open their bowels twice a week, while some may go three times per day. Consider what is your usual habit, whether you have to strain," Dean said.

It's important to consider what your usual bowel habits are like. Image: Getty

A sudden change to diarrhoea or constipation with no obvious cause would also warrant a visit to a GP or health care professional.

"It is important to seek advice from your doctor if you notice changes like these."

What can you do to get back to normal?

The good news is if you are dealing with bowel problems in self isolation, Dean said there are some simple things you can do to get back to normal.

"Try to prioritise increasing activity levels and getting 30 minutes of exercise per day," Dean said.

"Your exercise options may be more limited now, but you can keep it simple. Even gentle exercise like walking will help stimulate movement of the bowel."

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Eating plenty of fibre will also improve your bowel function by absorbing water and adding bulk to your bowel motions.

"Fibre is found in multigrain or wholegrain breads and cereal products, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds," Dean said.

With pasta flying off the shelves during isolation, it’s the perfect opportunity to get creative with grains that are high in fibre: barley, buckwheat, burghal, chia, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, semolina, sorghum and spelt.

However, along with increasing your fibre intake, it's important to make sure you're drinking lots of water too.

"Keep drinking well and spread your drinks throughout the day, choosing water as the preferred drink," Dean said.

And finally, try to re-establish some routines in your day when it comes to your toilet habits.

"Have regular mealtimes and try sitting on the toilet 20 to 30 minutes after having a meal as this is when the bowel usually wants to empty."

Featured image: Getty 

Do you have a lifestyle story or personal experience to share with us? Reach out and tell us about it at vtodoroska@networkten.com.au