Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of the most commonly asked questions about anorectal disorders.

What causes blood in the stool? If I have this for more than a few days, should I be worried?

Many different conditions - including some that are life-threatening - can cause blood in the stool. Bleeding could be a result of diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal cancer. Bright red blood on toilet paper after wiping may be due to hemorrhoids or minor tears (fissures) in your anus that are caused by straining while moving your bowels. Certain foods, such as beets or licorice, can also turn your stools red. No matter what you think the cause might be, you should talk to your doctor. Only a doctor can make an accurate diagnosis of what is causing the bleeding. Not only can he or she rule out more serious conditions, but also new techniques have made it possible to treat anorectal disorders quickly and with little pain on an outpatient basis.


I keep hearing that fiber is good for my digestive tract. How do I know how much I need?

According to the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, most people need 21 to 38 grams of fiber each day. Fiber can be found mostly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (e.g., beans and lentils). Many people, however, do not get enough fiber in the food they eat.


Is it okay to take fiber supplements on a regular basis?

Fiber is important to your digestive process. It provides bulk to your stools and keeps them soft enough to pass easily through your body. Getting most of your fiber from fresh fruits, vegetables and unprocessed grains in your food is always the best option, but there is no evidence that taking fiber supplements regularly causes harm to your body. When you start taking fiber supplements, start slowly to give your body time to adjust to the change, and be sure to drink plenty of water. If you have chronic constipation, a sudden change in bowel habits or abdominal pain, you should consult your doctor.


Is it possible to have too much fiber?

Ingesting a lot of fiber may affect how well your body can absorb important minerals. Insoluble fiber, such as that found in whole wheat, is more likely to interfere with mineral absorption than soluble (absorbs water) fiber, such as found in oats, dried beans and fruit. Phytate and oxalate (found in the husks of grains, seeds, dried beans and some vegetables) can keep your body from absorbing iron, calcium and zinc as well as it should. As long as you are eating a wide variety of foods, it is unlikely that this will be a problem. In addition, if you start out taking high dosages of fiber supplements when your body is not used to it, you may experience gas and bloating.


How do I know when I should see a doctor about my digestive problems?

Many digestive problems can be corrected by time or better managing your diet and lifestyle, but not all of them. Some anorectal disorders can be brought on by infections or inherited conditions. If you have symptoms that do not go away or that involve pain, a sudden change in bowel habits or bleeding, you should check with your doctor.


What is a rectocele?

A rectocele is a bulge or hernia in the front wall of the rectum that pushes into the vagina. A tough, fibrous tissue separates the rectum from the vagina, but if this weakens, part of the rectum can protrude into the vagina. Rectoceles most often occur in postmenopausal women, and they can be caused by stretching and pushing while giving birth, chronic constipation, a chronic cough or repetitive heavy lifting. Small rectoceles may produce no symptoms, but larger ones can cause tissue to bulge through the vaginal opening, difficulty in bowel movement or a feeling of pressure on or fullness in the rectum. Rectoceles can be treated with surgery or by inserting a ring (pessary) into the vagina to support the connective tissue.