Diarrhoea and Wind
Learn how treatment for bowel cancer can cause:
Diarrhoea, the frequent passing of loose, watery stools, may be caused by different types of treatment:
Surgery – If you have had part of your bowel removed, your bowel movements may be looser than you were used to. This is because the bowel absorbs water to form your stools. With a shorter bowel, the stools don’t form as solidly as before. This may be ongoing.
Radiation therapy – Diarrhoea is a common side effect of radiation therapy. It can take some weeks to settle down after treatment has finished. For a small number of people, diarrhoea is ongoing.
Chemotherapy – This can cause diarrhoea and nausea. These side effects will go away after treatment and you can gradually resume a normal diet.
The fast movement of food through your bowel before your body can absorb the water and nutrients can make you dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include a dry mouth, dark urine, dizziness and confusion. If left untreated, this can be dangerous. To manage dehydration, drink plenty of water and consider using a rehydration drink. If your anus becomes sore, a pharmacist can recommend a cream.
Having diarrhoea can also make you feel tired. Try to rest as much as possible and ask family or friends to help out with chores. Talk to your doctor and nurses about ways to control diarrhoea, such as using medicines, changing your diet and replacing fluids. You may also be referred to a dietitian or to a physiotherapist who specialises in bowel function.
Many people who have treatment for bowel cancer, especially surgery, find that it gives them wind. Reducing the foods that produce wind may be helpful. These might include fruit and vegetables with a high amount of carbohydrates that cannot be digested and absorbed in the intestine. For more on this, see Coping with dietary issues.
A/Prof Craig Lynch, Colorectal Surgeon, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Tim Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, and Clinical Professor, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Adelaide, SA; Department of Dietetics, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Hooi Ee, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Dr Debra Furniss, Radiation Oncologist, Genesis CancerCare, QLD; Jocelyn Head, Consumer; Jackie Johnston, Palliative Care and Stomal Therapy Clinical Nurse Consultant, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, NSW; Zeinah Keen, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Elizabeth Murphy, Head, Colorectal Surgical Unit, Lyell McEwin Hospital, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions.
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