Diarrhea is a common lower intestinal ailment that is typically not a serious medical emergency. Occasional bouts of diarrhea are usually related to bacterial or viral infections, food intolerances or reactions to new medications. Most acute cases of diarrhea resolve with rest and hydration (and avoiding trigger foods and medications, if possible). Viral and bacterial toxins are normally short lived, so be patient. Frequent diarrhea, however, can indicate irritable bowel disorder, irritable bowel syndrome or another serious medical condition. Seek medical attention if you can't hold any liquid or food down, you show signs of dehydration, your diarrhea shows blood (which appears black), you have abdominal pain and/or a high fever, or your symptoms last longer than a week.
Because the typical American diet delivers well below the daily recommended 25 grams of fiber, constipation is a common problem. Acute constipation also can be attributed to lack of exercise, not drinking enough fluids, hormonal changes and laxative abuse. Chronic constipation can be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome -- a condition that needs medical attention -- or a side effect of certain medications. Lifestyle changes, such as increasing your fiber and liquid intake as well as getting more exercise, can resolve constipation within a few days. Research suggests that probiotics may help alleviate this frustrating and often painful ailment, too. If you are constipated for a few weeks, though, see your doctor to rule out an intestinal blockage or other medical condition.
Hemorrhoids are another (miserable) condition sometimes caused by a low-fiber diet, but they may also be due to pregnancy, straining during bowel movements, constipation and obesity. Changing your diet to include more high-fiber foods or supplements, increasing your liquid intake, and exercising regularly can decrease the occurrence of hemorrhoids. See your doctor if lifestyle changes do not offer relief or if you experience excruciating pain or bleeding.
Urinary incontinence is quite literally nothing to laugh, cough or sneeze at, and you certainly don't want to talk about it. Bladder weakness is often due to weak or damaged muscles that control the bladder, resulting in unexpected or uncontrollable leakage. Age, pregnancy, lack of exercise and some medications can lead to urinary incontinence. If you are pregnant, symptoms should subside during your postpartum recovery; doing Kegel exercises before, during and after pregnancy can help you gain control of your bladder. If you aren't pregnant, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options that can reduce urinary leakage.
Embarrassing health conditions may be uncomfortable to discuss, but instead of ignoring them and bearing their negative effects on your quality of life, have a discussion with your doctor on the best ways to treat your condition.
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