The content of this page is intended for healthcare professionals only.

Are you a Healthcare Professional?
Sarah on beach banner

Common Bowel Problems

The bowel might cause problem for most of us now and then, but we usually feel better after a few days. For others, the problems are persistent. Living with bowel problems is challenging and may impose restrictions on quality of life, such as having a social life or just going to work. At the same time, it is also difficult to talk about.

However, it is important to discuss these problems and seek help. With support and the right treatment, you can get your life back. Bowel problems can be anything from chronic constipation to spending hours in the bathroom due to a lack of bowel control where faecal incontinence can cause bowel accidents. It can also be a combination of both.


Constipation is a common health problem and is characterised by infrequent and irregular bowel movements, resulting in hard, dry stools, which are difficult to pass. It might cause severe stomach ache, bloating, discomfort and longer periods spent on the toilet trying to pass stool.

Faecal Incontinence

Faecal incontinence is another common condition, where as many as 10% of the general adult population are affected. Faecal incontinence means involuntary loss of gas, liquid or solid stool resulting in bowel accidents. It is perceived as deeply distressing, causing hygiene issues that limit social interactions.


The underlying causes of bowel symptoms may vary. Neurogenic bowel dysfunction (NBD) is when the cause is neurogenic, i.e a disease or injury of the central nervous system or peripheral nerves involved in the control of bowel emptying

Examples are:

  • Spinal cord injury
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spina bifida
  • Parkinson's disease

Other conditions which may lead to bowel dysfunction are:

  • Functional bowel disorders (FBD) when no underlying causes can be found
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction – for example complications after childbirth
  • After surgery – for example Low Anterior Resection Syndrome (LARS)
  • Hirschsprung’s disease
  • Cancer of the colon or rectum
  • Anorectal malformation