Functional disorders are those in which the bowel looks normal but doesn’t work properly. They are the most common problems affecting the colon and rectum, and include constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The primary causes for functional disorders include:
- Eating a diet low in fiber
- Not getting enough exercise
- Traveling or other changes in routine
- Eating large amounts of dairy products
- Being stressed
- Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement
- Resisting the urge to have bowel movements due to pain from hemorrhoids
- Overusing laxatives (stool softeners) that, over time, weaken the bowel muscles
- Taking antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
- Taking certain medicines (especially antidepressants, iron pills, and strong pain medicines such as narcotics)
- Being pregnant
Other perianal infections
Sometimes the skin glands near the anus become infected and need to be drained. Just behind the anus, abscesses can form that contain a small tuft of hair at the back of the pelvis (called a pilonidal cyst).
Sexually transmitted diseases that can affect the anus include anal warts, herpes, AIDS, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.
Many diseases of the colon and rectum can be prevented or minimized by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing good bowel habits, and submitting to cancer screening.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, you should have a colonoscopy beginning at age 40, or 10 years younger than your youngest family member with cancer. (For example, if your brother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer or polyps at age 45, you should begin screening at age 35).
If you have no family history of colorectal cancer and no personal history of other cancers, you should have a colonoscopy at age 50.
If you have symptoms of colorectal cancer you should consult your doctor right away.
Common symptoms include:
- A change in normal bowel habits
- Blood on or in the stool that is either bright or dark
- Unusual abdominal or gas pains
- Very narrow stool
- A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after passing stood
- Unexplained weight loss