Change in Bowel habit

Definition This is one of the three key symptoms of bowel cancer. There are many ways your bowel habit can change:


It can change in the number of times you go to the toilet to pass a stool

In the consistency of the motions to looser or harder and drier stools

In the 'narrowness' of the motions

In the way you pass motions; having to strain more, having to go more urgently 

In the feelings of incomplete emptying of the bowel.

Everyone's bowel habit normally varies from time to time and it can be difficult to say when it has really changed. There are also large differences between people in the way their bowel works, which means that:  


             ‘One man’s constipation may be another man’s normal bowel habit.’

                          V Moore Gillan.  Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.  1984 


For all these reasons it is important for your doctor to know:

How often you normally go to the toilet to open your bowels and whether this has increased or decreased?

Whether the consistency of your motions has changed to being looser or harder and drier than normal? 

Whether the change has persisted for more than 4 weeks without returning completely to normal?

Whether the change in bowel habit is new or whether your bowel habit normally varies from time to time? 

This will help your GP decide whether you should have investigations in hospital and if you use the ‘Symptom Checker’ you can print out the nature of your change in bowel habit to take to your GP.

For advice on how to treat your change in bowel habit click on 'Treatment for Bowel Symptoms' below.

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