Diarrhoea and wind
Treatment for bowel cancer can cause diarrhoea and wind.
Learn more about managing:
Diarrhoea is the frequent passing of loose, watery faeces. It can also cause abdominal cramping, wind and pain.
Different types of treatment can cause diarrhoea:
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 faeces. With a shorter bowel, the faeces don’t form as solidly as before. This may be ongoing, but there are many ways of managing diarrhoea.
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.
This treatment can cause diarrhoea and nausea. These side effects will go away after treatment and you can gradually return to a normal diet.
Having diarrhoea can also make you feel tired. Try to rest as much as possible and ask family or friends to help out with housework.
Talk to your doctor and nurses about ways to control diarrhoea, such as using over-the-counter medicines and changing your diet. You may also be referred to a dietitian or to a physiotherapist who specialises in bowel function. If diarrhoea continues for a few days, see a doctor.
How to manage diarrhoea
- Eat three small meals a day and snack often.
- Choose low-fibre foods that are easier to digest, such as bananas, white rice, white pasta, white bread, potatoes, white fish and steamed chicken without skin.
- Add well-cooked vegetables without seeds, husks or skin, such as carrots, potato and pumpkin, to your meals.
- If you suspect that a food causes diarrhoea, avoid it for 2–3 weeks. Reintroduce one food at a time. If the diarrhoea flares up again, you may want to avoid that food.
- Avoid foods that increase bowel activity, e.g. caffeine; alcohol; spicy, fatty or oily foods; high-sugar fluids such as juice and soft drink; artificial sweeteners.
- Don’t eat too many raw fruits and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, or legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas), as they may make diarrhoea worse.
- Avoid dairy foods if they cause problems, or try low-lactose or soy-based dairy products.
- Watch for warning signs of dehydration. These include a dry mouth, dark yellow urine, dizziness and confusion. If dehydration is left untreated, it can be dangerous.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated and consider having a rehydration drink.
- If your anus becomes sore, clean area with warm water and a soft cloth. Ask your treatment team to recommend a cream.
I had diarrhoea for a few weeks but it improved with medication.Emma
Many people who have treatment for bowel cancer, especially surgery, find that it gives them wind, commonly referred to as gas or farting. This is usually temporary and improves with time. See the tips below on what foods to eat and what to avoid. This is a guide only as foods can affect people differently.
How to manage wind
- Limit the foods that cause wind. These might include fruits and vegetables high in carbohydrates (e.g. broccoli, apples), which cannot be digested and absorbed in the bowel.
- Try chewing charcoal tablets, eating natural yoghurt and drinking peppermint tea.
- Cut your food into small, bite-sized pieces.
- Chew your food slowly and thoroughly.
- When you have a drink, take small sips and don’t use a straw.
- Talk to your doctor about what types of light exercise you can do to relieve bloating and wind.
- Avoid foods that increase gas, e.g. eggs, legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, large serves of dairy products, fizzy drinks, sugar-free foods.
- Don’t eat too many raw and vegetables.
Three months after the ileostomy, I went in for the reversal surgery. You have to stay in hospital until you pass wind, which took six days. Passing wind will never lose its amusement.Richard
A/Prof David A Clark, Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and The University of Queensland, QLD, and The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare Gold Coast, QLD; Dr Hooi Ee, Specialist Gastroenterologist and Head, Department of Gastroenterology, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Annie Harvey, Consumer; A/Prof Louise Nott, Medical Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Hobart, TAS; Caley Schnaid, Accredited Practising Dietitian, GenesisCare, St Leonards and Frenchs Forest, NSW; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Alina Stoita, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, NSW; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Richard Vallance, Consumer.
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