How often do you really think about your poo? Do you flush it away without a care in the world? Or — deep down — is there something worrying you about your bowels?
The truth is most of us are still way too squeamish to talk about our toilet habits, which means it’s all too easy to give worrying symptoms — like blood in your poo and frequent, persistent diarrhoea — the brush-off.
The charity Crohn’s & Colitis UK is warning people not to take that risk, because the consequences could be life-threatening.
“If you’re reading this and you’ve seen blood in your poo, or you have lots of diarrhoea that’s been going on a long time, or any of the other symptoms of Crohn’s or Colitis, then my message to you is: don’t ignore what’s going on,” says Bridgette Fraser, a Crohn’s & Colitis UK nurse specialist.
There are more than half a million people in the UK living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease.
Crohn’s causes inflammation in your digestive system – so that can happen anywhere from your mouth to your bum. Meanwhile, in colitis, the inflammation and ulcers are only in your colon, which is the last bit of your gut.
They’re lifelong conditions so there’s no cure, but there are lots of treatments available.
They key thing is not having to wait too long for a diagnosis, because the longer it takes to figure out what’s going on, the worse things can be in the long run.
About one in five people with Crohn’s will need to have major surgery in their first five years after diagnosis. That’s a lot to get your head around, but if it’s emergency surgery you need rather than a planned operation, then things could end up being worse than if your bowel disease had been caught sooner. Especially if there are complications.
So what signs should you be looking out for? Blood in your poo, stomach pain, diarrhoea, urgent need to go and unexplained weight loss are some of the big ones. There’s also fatigue, getting up in the night to go for a poo, and needing the toilet urgently. You don’t have to have all the symptoms all the time – sometimes they come and go.
Luckily, you don’t have to remember all of this, because the experts at Crohn’s & Colitis UK have designed a handy symptom checker to make life easier. Within 30 seconds you’ll know whether your symptoms are something you should speak to your doctor about. So far more than 200,000 people have used it, and received guidance on the next steps they can take.
We know that thinking about what these symptoms could mean for your health can be terrifying. It’s often easier to make excuses. But, in the words of Crohn’s & Colitis UK’s early diagnosis campaign: it’s time to 'Cut The Crap'. We also know that the sooner you face up to those very understandable fears and get help, the better. Earlier diagnosis leads to better outcomes.
Back to Bridgette Fraser for a last bit of advice: “Going for a poo five or six times a day is not normal. Nor is getting up every day feeling so tired you can’t function. Don’t tell yourself: ‘It’s a dodgy tummy’ or think it will just go away.
“If you can’t go out with your friends because as soon as you eat anything you have to rush to the toilet – that’s not normal either. You need to get yourself checked out.”
If you do find out you have Crohn’s or colitis, then you’ll be managed by an expert IBD team including doctors and nurses like Bridgette. They’ll help you get on the right treatment as soon as possible so you can get back to living the life you want to live.
Think about it this way: going to talk to someone about your poo is a lot less scary than finding yourself needing emergency bowel surgery.
Find out more about Crohn’s & Colitis UK’s 'Cut the Crap' campaign here.Featured Image Credit: Layla Bird / Kinga Krzeminska / Getty