GI Health | Constipation and Diarrhea
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Symptoms and Treatment

Constipation and Diarrhea: What They Mean

Extremely frequent or infrequent bowel movements can negatively impact quality of life – and can be a sign of an underlying GI condition. There are numerous causes of both diarrhea and constipation. A systematic approach to accurate diagnosis is necessary for effective treatment of these conditions.

Causes of constipation

Constipation is defined as a reduction in the frequency of bowel movements that creates discomfort. Common causes of constipation include:

  • Dehydration
  • Diet-related changes to the stool
  • Slowed intestinal movement
  • Certain medications
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Colon obstruction
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Abnormal potassium or calcium levels

Constipation can occasionally be a presenting sign of colon cancer – which can be diagnosed by a colonoscopy. If you have had a change in your bowel habits or are tired of struggling to have a bowel movement, you should seek an opinion from your gastroenterologist.


Diarrhea is defined as loosening of the stool, with a change in consistency, frequency and occasionally with an increase in urgency. Diarrhea can be caused by:

  • Infections
  • Medications
  • Dietary factors
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Other conditions that cause rapid intestinal movement

If you have consistent, chronic diarrhea, contact your GI doctor, who will develop a workup to diagnose potential issues, which include stool studies, blood work and occasionally an EGD and colonoscopy to obtain biopsies from the small intestine and colon. A hydrogen breath test may be ordered as well.

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