FROM how we work to what we do for exercise – the coronavirus pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives.
And some people may have noticed that, after six weeks in lockdown, even their bowel movements have even changed.
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If you’ve noticed changes in your toilet habits over the past month or so, you might be wondering why this biological function – that often comes like clockwork – is different.
Well, it turns out several lifestyle changes during the pandemic may be impacting your poop – with factors such as a change in exercise creating a perfect storm for unpredictable and unfavourable stools.
In particular, the NHS has pointed out that constipation is often caused by not eating enough fibre, not drinking enough water, a change in diet, stress or anxiety and medication.
Knowing what your poo should look like can also tell you a lot about your health – and can be the first sign of a serious disease such as bowel cancer.
Similarly, tummy problems and diarrhoea are also thought to be signs of coronavirus.
Here, we take you through the main reasons why you might be experiencing toilet troubles during lockdown…
1. Your diet is different
Whether your relying on takeaways from Deliveroo or can't stop snacking on sweet treats while working from home, many people's diets will have significantly changed during lockdown.
And your diet plays a huge role in the type of bowel movements you experience.
In particular, if you're not eating much fibre – which is in that good old fruit and veg – you may find you're self feeling a little constipated.
This is because fibre is essential in any diet because it adds bulk and makes it easier for poop to pass through the intestines.
High fibre foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, bran, and whole-grain cereals and breads.
2. Your exercise routine has changed
With Brits now being limited to only one walk, run or cycle a day and gyms closed across the country, you may find your exercise routine has dramatically changed.
And if you're doing less exercise than usual this may have an effect on your bowel movements – namely that they’re happening less often.
This is because aerobic exercise, which increases both heart and breathing rates, causes natural movement of the intestines and makes passing stools quicker and easier.
Any type of exercise from walking and yoga to running or swimming is effective to keep the GI tract healthy.
However, if you're slowing down the amount of activity you're doing – it also might be slowing down things down there.
Fortunately, there are a ton of free exercise classes on Instagram to keep you working out at home – which may get everything back to the way it was moving before isolation.
We recommend trying Psycle's Instagram Live fitness classes.
They offer between four and six Instagram live workouts every single day, including abs blast sessions, revival yoga, HIIT, barre and meditation.
3. You're drinking more
From Quarantinis to Zoom happy hours – whatever booze you’re having, it’s probably having an impact on your bowel movements.
Alcohol consumption not only leads to dehydration but also reduces peristalsis (the movement of the intestines that causes a bowel movement).
Booze can also "be an irritant to the stomach and intestines and may cause pain, bloating and reflux," Jean Marie Houghton, a gastroenterologist with UMass Memorial Health Care, told HuffPost.
If you find that your bowel movements are hard or you’re having trouble passing them, try increasing your water intake during the day.
The NHS advise drinking six to eight glasses of fluids per day.
To put it into another perspective, this is about three or four 500ml bottles of water.
Drinking low-fat milks and sugar-free drinks as well as plain breakfast tea, coffee and herbal tea all count towards what the NHS recommends.
4. You're feeling stressed
With lockdown restrictions, financial fears and health concerns causing constant worries – it's no surprise many people are feeling stressed during the coronavirus outbreak.
And your bowel movements can be affected by stress that you experience during the day.
In particular, when you feel extremely stressed it can lead to problems with diarrhoea and constipation as well as nausea and vomiting.
However, there are a number of ways to reduce stress levels from your own home.
Dr Jenna Macciochi, one of the UK's leading immunologists, advised: "It’s important to try and reduce as much as you can through breathing techniques or just taking a moment to have a good cuppa."
Try to do some exercise to boost mood and circulation each day by creating a mini routine and find something fun that keeps you fit and active that makes you feel better.
Ways to take care of your mental health during lockdown
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) CEO Simon Gunning has revealed there are some simple steps you can take during this uncertain time to keep on top things and stay mentally fit and healthy while at home…
1. Stay connected
Make sure you stay connected to your mates as best as you can.
Even if you’re stuck at home, in our interconnected world there are loads of ways to chat to your friends and family, without seeing them IRL.
Play FIFA with your mates. Facetime your mum (she’ll love that). Hell, organise a Google hangout and have a beer if you want to recreate a pub.
2. Switch off
It’s OK to turn off social media for a bit.
It’s very tempting to watch and watch (and then watch some more) all the information that’s coming in. But don’t do that to yourself.
Avoid news that could make you feel anxious and choose the stuff that’s practical and helpful.
3. Keep up a routine
Strike a balance between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety.
It can be hard to begin to accept this new normal.
If you’re finding the change difficult, it might help to build yourself a new routine – getting up, eating and doing familiar things at set times can help you to feel a little more in control of the situation.
4. Let out your feelings
It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed or upset by what's going on.
Getting it out is the best policy – whether that’s needing a bit of space or unloading your feelings. Social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing.
5. You have other health troubles
The chances are any changes in your toilet habits could be down to the above lockdown factors or something like IBS, a food intolerance or conditions like Crohn's disease.
However, they could also be down to bowel cancer.
Charlotte Dawson, head of support and information at Bowel Cancer UK previously told The Sun that a healthy poo "should be a medium brown, it should be soft but not liquid, it should be easy to expel so you aren’t straining and it shouldn’t have a lot of cracks and fissures as that indicates constipation".
But it's all about what's normal for you so you need to be checking to make sure that you know what your typical pooing habits look like.
One of the reasons people die from bowel cancer is that it's not caught in time.
Some of that will be down to not being in tune with what's normal for their own bodies – and not flagging to their GPs the moment something odd happens.
That's why The Sun launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer – and to break down the poo taboo, and get everyone talking and thinking about their insides.
The only way you can tell if something potentially dangerous is happening down there is if you check your poo regularly and then seeking medical help ASAP.
What are the red-flag signs of bowel cancer?
If you notice any of the below signs, don't be embarrassed and don't ignore them. Doctors are used to seeing lots of patients with bowel problems.
The five red-flag symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- Bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
- A change in your normal toilet habits – going more frequently for example
- Pain or a lump in your tummy
- Extreme tiredness
- Losing weight
Tumours in the bowel typically bleed, which can cause a shortage of red blood cells, known as anaemia. It can cause tiredness and sometimes breathlessness.
In some cases bowel cancer can block the bowel, this is known as a bowel obstruction.
While these are all signs to watch out for, experts warn the most serious is noticing blood in your stools.
But, they warn it can prove tricky for doctors to diagnose the disease, because in most cases these symptoms will be a sign of a less serious disease.
6. You may have coronavirus
A tummy ache and diarrhoea is said to be one of the less commonly reported symptoms of coronavirus.
A persistent dry cough and fever are the two main symptoms we know to look for, but scientists have said Covid-19 can attack our digestive systems as well, a version known as 'gastro coronavirus'.
A recent study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, suggests people might experience digestive issues, such as diarrhoea, when they are infected with coronavirus.
Researchers analysed data from 206 patients with Covid-19 in China’s Hubei province and they discovered that 48.5 per cent of these patients arrived at the hospital with digestive symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting or abdominal pain.
Following this, the researchers stated that, for some people, digestive symptoms may present itself first before the respiratory symptoms of Covid-19.
The study noted: "These data emphasize that patients with new-onset digestive symptoms after a possible Covid-19 contact should be suspected for the illness, even in the absence of cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, or fever."
How often should you poo?
This very much comes down to what is normal for you.
If you are someone that needs to poop once a day or someone that poops twice a day there's nothing to worry about.
You could even be someone that poops several times a day or once every few day.
The main thing to be aware off when it comes to frequency, as well as colour and consistency, is that any changes need to be check out by a doctor.
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