Everyone knows that a high-fiber diet is important for maintaining good bowel health. But what a lot of people don’t know is that it’s also essential to drink plenty of fluids — ideally, water or other unsweetened, caffeine-free beverages.
As a leading proctologist in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, wants patients to understand how their personal habits can affect their bowel health and function. Here’s what he wants to share about the link between hydration and your anal health.
Fluid intake and bowel function
Most people think bowel movements are only made up of the “indigestible” parts of food. Food wastes (mostly fiber) do make up a large part of your stool, but so does fluid. In fact, about 75% of stool is composed of water and other fluids. Fluid helps keep your stool soft, so your bowels move more easily and more frequently.
Your small intestines and large intestine (colon) need a certain amount of fluid to process and digest your food, absorbing nutrients while eliminating waste products. When you’re hydrated, there’s plenty of fluid available. But if you’re even modestly dehydrated, the colon winds up absorbing some of the fluid it needs from the stool itself, resulting in hard, dry stool.
This imbalance in fluids disrupts digestion and makes it harder for your intestines to do their job. It also increases your risks of a variety of anal health problems, like the three listed below.
Most people think constipation means infrequent bowel movements, and it does — but that’s just one part of constipation.
Actually, if you're constipated, you exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
- Fewer than three bowel movements per week
- Stool that’s hard or dry
- Feeling like you haven’t completely emptied your bowel
- Painful bowel movements
- Stool that’s difficult to pass
Constipation is uncomfortable on its own, but it can also contribute to other issues, like the following two.
Roughly 1 out of 20 Americans suffers from hemorrhoids, with that number increasing with age: About half of all adults over 50 have the painful condition.
Hemorrhoids usually happen when pressure on your rectum strains blood vessels, causing them to swell and protrude. Hemorrhoids can be external — visible outside and near the anus — or internal — contained entirely inside your rectum. In addition to pain, hemorrhoids cause itching and bleeding, too.
Dehydration can make hemorrhoid symptoms worse by making it harder to move your bowels. That means you’ll need to strain more to have a bowel movement, and that strain is what “activates” hemorrhoid symptoms.
An anal fissure is a tiny cut or tear in the lining of your anal sphincter. These tears typically occur when your bowel movements are hard and dry. As the stool passes through your anus, it causes tears in the thin mucous membrane. Anal fissures are often accompanied by pain (even after you’ve had a bowel movement) and bleeding.
A note about bleeding
These three anal health issues are common reasons for rectal bleeding, but they’re not the only causes. Colorectal cancer also causes bleeding. If you have rectal bleeding that doesn’t clear up in a couple of days, it’s very important to call the office so Dr. Tarlowe can determine the source.
Raise a glass to healthier bowels
Most guidelines recommend 8-10 glasses of water a day to improve your bowel function and your overall health, too. But there are some medical issues — like congestive heart failure and kidney problems — that can have an impact on that recommendation. Asking your doctor what’s recommended for your health needs is the best way to ensure you maximize the benefits of hydration without taxing other organs.
Good bowel function is essential for staying healthy. If you’ve noticed any unusual changes in your bowel habits or if you’ve had pain, bleeding, or other bowel-related symptoms, don’t ignore them. Call 954-256-1842 or book an appointment online today, and learn how Dr. Tarlowe can help.