Bowel problems: Different and Similar Symptoms.

There are similar symptoms to many bowel problems, so it’s important to see your doctor as soon as you suspect that your symptoms aren’t going away.  And especially of you have a family history of any of these diseases.

Here, we’ve put several of the most common disorders together so you can compare their symptoms.  You may have some symptoms that are not included here, but the similarity of some of the symptoms can make the diseases difficult to diagnose so talk to your doctor who will make sure you have the right tests to get the right diagnosis.

A RISK FACTOR is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease.  Have risk factors doesn’t mean that you will get the disease and not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you won’t get it.



  • Pain  –   lower abdomen
    • Worse on eating
    • Better on defecating (having a bowel movement)
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Change in bowel habit that doesn’t resolve (eg diarrhoea or constipation)
    • Weight loss for no reason

Risk factors:

  • Being age 40+
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Having a low fibre diet
  • Long term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.

Colon Cancer


  • Change in bowel habit that doesn’t resolve (eg diarrhoea or constipation)
  • Blood – bright red or very dark – in the stool
  • Feeling of the bowel not emptying when you go to the toilet
  • Stools that are narrower than normal
  • Pain from bloating or cramps
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Weight loss for no reason
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Mucous in stools

Risk factors:

  • Being age 50+
  • Family history of cancer of the rectum or colon
  • Personal history of cancer of the ovary, breast or endometrium
  • Personal history of bowel polyps
  • Personal history of ulcerative colitis

Celiac  (Coeliac) Disease


  • Abdominal pain that comes and goes
  • Bloating and wind (gas/farting)
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • constipation
  • pale, foul smelling stool
  • weight loss for no reason
  • anaemia (iron deficiency – diagnosed by your doctor on a blood test result)
  • fatigue/weakness
  • bone/joint pain
  • arthritis
  • bone loss/osteoporosis
  • tingling in the hands and feet
  • missed menstrual periods
  • sores in the mouth

Risk factors:

  • Being age 40+ (commonly in age 60+ group)
  • Family history of the disease
  • More common in people with thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes

Ulcerative Colitis


  • Watery diarrhoea with pus, mucous or blood
  • Needing to rush to the toilet but nothing to pass when you get there
  • Crampy abdominal pain
  • Pain when passing stools
  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Skin sores
  • Joint pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea

Risk factors:

  • Being white
  • Being of Jewish decent
  • Often starts in age group 15-30 years
  • Having a family history of ulcerative colitis

Irritable Bowel Syndrome


  • Abdominal pain which is associated with having a bowel movement
  • Constipation and/or diarrhoea
  • abdominal bloating and tension
  • Needing to have a bowel movement more than 3 times a day or less than 3 times a week.
  • Feeling that the bowel doesn’t completely empty when using the toilet
  • Mucous from the back passage when straining to have a bowel movement
  • Tiredness
  • Backache
  • Bladder symptoms
  • Wind (farting)

Here’s an article from Everyday Health about bowels and stool health.

If you’re worried about your symptoms or medical problem but don’t want to seek professional help because you feel embarrassed, silly or that it’s your fault, read this page now:  How to talk to a doctor about an embarrassing problem.

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