Can You Have Constipation and Diarrhoea at the Same Time?

It might sound counterintuitive, but could constipation and diarrhoea occur at the same time? We answer that question below.

Can You Have Constipation and Diarrhoea at the Same Time?

It might sound counterintuitive, but could constipation and diarrhoea occur at the same time? We answer that question below.

Constipation and diarrhoea have the complete opposite symptoms, so is it possible for them to occur at the same time?

It might sound a bit crazy, but the answer is yes. And we’re going to tell you why.

There are many factors that can cause both faecal incontinence - or diarrhoea - and constipation at the same time. Understanding what the factors may and what you can do about them, can make a world of difference for those experiencing the symptoms.

How do constipation and diarrhoea happen at the same time?

Studies have found that it is possible to experience symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea at the same time. Sometimes referred to as constipation diarrhoea, it is also known as paradoxical diarrhoea or overflow diarrhoea [1].

Medical professionals describe the symptoms as occurring when there’s been a blockage in the lower end of the intestine or in the rectum caused by a firm stool. Then, watery stool builds up behind it, eventually leaking around the blockage and causing faecal incontinence, which is often mistaken for solely diarrhoea.

Experts in gastrointestinal medicine have explained that while not uncommon, there is still much to be researched when it comes to paradoxical diarrhoea. In some patients it has been difficult to reach an accurate diagnosis [2]. Yet the more research is being compiled on the symptoms, the clearer picture on causes of the condition gets.

While paradoxical diarrhoea can be a singular event due to diet, a stomach bug or temporary illness, experts have found that in a large number of cases a chronic condition is likely to be contributing.

Doctors believe that irritable bowel syndrome can cause uncomfortable symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea at the same time. Specifically, IBS-M (a subcategory of IBS) is where constipation and diarrhoea frequently alternate, this can be over a period of hours or even days [1].

While scientists aren’t sure why these symptoms occur in the absence of significant intestinal disease or damage, they believe that fluctuations in gut motility (which is the rhythmic contractions of the intestines) ultimately lead to these symptoms [3].

Experts also believe there is a link between the chronic use of some medication and the possibility of developing symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea.

The consistent and long term use of some medications can lead to constipation, with many using stimulant laxatives to encourage bowel movement. However, with long term use of stimulant laxatives, a laxative dependency can develop which is when the body becomes less responsive to the laxative medication, and gut motility is slowed, resulting in constipation [4].

This cycle can put significant strain on the processing of food, leading to increased paradoxical diarrhoea when simply trying to treat constipation. Doctors advise against the long term use of stimulant laxatives and stool softeners to avoid these complications [4].

How to relieve symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea

If you or a loved one develops symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea at the same time heading to your trusted GP is the best first step. Going through any changes in medication, diet or lifestyle with a trained professional, may help to find the underlying cause quickly.

In keeping with above, medical professionals advise to avoid taking stimulant laxatives on a long term basis as these can upset the consistency of gut motility. Assessing any new medications that you have started and when the incontinence symptoms began, may help to narrow down possible causes with your doctor.

When trying to manage the symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea, experts encourage tackling the initial symptom of constipation [1]. As paradoxical/overflow diarrhoea starts with the blockage, adopting measures to prevent constipation has helped many to reduce and manage the symptoms.

Drinking enough water is helpful for the digestive system to run smoothly. Eating a diet high in fibre and avoiding highly processed foods such as white bread, white rice and cheese can also go a long way to reducing and preventing constipation [5]. A diet high in whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and nuts can help ensure soft stools as well.

You can also check out these 8 easy and effective ways to relieve constipation.

What can you do about constipation and diarrhoea?

Sometimes figuring out what is causing symptoms can take time. In that time to figure out whether medications, or a medical condition or a change in lifestyle has brought on constipation and diarrhoea, everyone deserves to still be able to go about their daily lives without worrying about faecal incontinence.

Our unisex range pull-ups and slips are your best option when managing faecal incontinence. For children and teens you can opt for our range of youth pants. All made with anatomically fitting, discreet materials and an ultra-fast absorption core, our products really do feel like normal everyday underwear.

Their breathable fabric helps maintain skin health and odour locking technology will keep you fresh between changes.

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