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Are Good Manners Damaging our Health?

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Poop, crap, shit…whatever you call it, we all do it.

So why is bowel health still such a taboo subject? As a society, we’ve tackled other traditionally sensitive medical issues. We are far more open when talking about aspects of health that would have previously been mentioned in hushed tones, such as periods and erectile dysfunction.

Does our fear of talking about faeces go back to childhood when toilet humour got us into trouble with teachers and parents alike? Is there a deep-set sense of dirtiness that comes with discussing our bodily waste? Or is it plain old embarrassment? Whatever the reason, we need to open up the conversation and stop pussyfooting around poo.

Why We Need to Talk About Poop

There’s no reason to feel ashamed. Excrement is a natural waste product of digestion and a normal part of our everyday lives. Emptying our bowels is a regular occurrence from day one (anyone who’s had a baby will recall the frequency of nappy changing in those first few weeks and months!).

Although we pass fewer bowel movements as we gain control over our sphincter muscles, most adults will do a ‘number two’ between three times a day and three times a week. Consider other daily tasks – washing your hair, preparing a meal, or watching your favourite soap opera. They are a substantial part of your life and regularly make their way into conversations with your friends. Talking about poop with this level of frequency and ease should be our goal.

You might wonder why we need to normalise talking about our bathroom habits when we’ve managed perfectly well to keep what happens in the smallest room to ourselves. The answer to that is because it is important for our health.

Knowing how to talk about your poop could even save your life.

Bowel Health

It’s over twelve years since my beloved mother ‘Marmie’ passed away. I miss her so, but feel her presence in everything I do, especially when I find a white feather..”―Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE, patron of Bowel Cancer UK. 

How to Talk About Poop

If you have concerns about your bowel health but are nervous or embarrassed about discussing your bowel movements with medical professionals, there are tools to help you.

The Bristol Stool Chart is a widely used medical aid to support patients and healthcare professionals in talking about poop. Describing seven different types of poo using words and images, the chart goes from type one (small hard lumps that are hard to pass) to type seven (fully liquid with no solid pieces). The chart is a fantastic way to open up discussions about gut health.

For younger patients, the internet offers alternatives such as the Bristol Stool Chart in chocolate form (with type one represented by Maltesers and type seven by a chocolate milkshake), but this needn’t only be for paediatrics.

Comparisons can be useful if you are unsure how to describe the colour, shape, or texture of your poo when meeting with a medical professional. ‘As thin as a pencil’, ‘ragged around the edge like a ripped piece of paper’, ‘hard like a rabbit pellet’, ‘the colour of a terracotta plant pot’ – these descriptions all give your doctor a clear idea of what your poo is like.

Remember, this is all part of a day’s work for anyone with a career in the medical field, so try to push any embarrassment to one side. Find a word or phrase you feel comfortable with to use throughout – this might be ‘poo’, ‘poop’, ‘bowel movement’ or something else entirely.

As long as you and the person you are talking to know what you are referring to, that is all that matters. If you really can’t talk about it, consider writing down what you want to say beforehand and taking it in with you to share with your healthcare provider.

Bristol Stool Chart - Bowel Health
Bristol Stool Chart

Diseases of the Bowel

Awareness of conditions and diseases that can affect the bowel is vital if we want to improve bowel health.

In the UK, there has been a boost in discussion around bowel cancer, with high-profile campaigners such as Deborah James (AKA Bowel Babe) sharing their journeys across social media and through the press.

Bowel Cancer UK also has celebrity ambassadors and patrons, including Tom Hardy, Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE and Matt Dawson MBE. They work hard to support the charity by raising awareness of bowel cancer.

Other long-term health conditions that can affect your bowel include Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as Crohn’s and Colitis. These are often accompanied by bleeding and stomach pain. There is currently no cure for inflammatory bowel disease, although many people can control their condition through medication.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is an unpleasant but common condition which affects the digestive system. Dietary changes can often control it.

It takes guts, but it’s time to break down the barriers. It’s time to talk about poop and get rid of the taboo once and for all.

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