Some people use the term “lazy bowel” to refer to slowed digestion. Slowed digestion is a symptom of a condition rather than a condition in itself.
A person who has slowed digestion may experience other symptoms, such as infrequent bowel movements, constipation, and straining.
Read on to find out the causes of a lazy bowel and the other symptoms that may accompany it. We also outline various treatment options that could aid proper digestion and help alleviate symptoms.
A lazy bowel is not a diagnosable medical disorder. However, many people use this term to refer to slowed digestion.
Slowed digestion results in infrequent bowel movements, which doctors call slow transit constipation (STC).
Some people develop slowed digestion after prolonged use of stimulant laxatives. Some examples of these drugs include:
Stimulant laxatives stimulate peristalsis — a series of muscle contractions that the body uses to move food through the digestive tract. Over time, the body can become dependent on this stimulation, and it may develop slower or less effective peristalsis.
However, some people may feel the need to use stimulant laxatives. If so, it is important to use the lowest possible dosage and only rely on the drug for a short period.
The following symptoms may accompany slowed digestion:
- feeling the urge to have a bowel movement only very infrequently
- having a bowel movement less than a few times a week
- passing fewer stools than normal
- abdominal bloating and pain
There are several potential causes of slowed digestion and STC. They include:
- Laxative use: People who use stimulant laxatives for extended periods may struggle to pass stools without them.
- Medication and drugs: Some drugs, including opioids, may slow digestion and cause constipation.
- Fiber consumption: Eating more fiber can help ease many forms of constipation, but too much can make STC worse. Fiber increases the amount of stool in the rectum, which is not helpful for a person with STC, who is unable to pass stool frequently and effectively.
- Physical blockage: A growth or another physical blockage within the digestive tract may slow digestion.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS causes constipation, gas, diarrhea, and other digestive problems. Doctors do not fully understand what causes IBS. However, researchers have shown that people with IBS tend to have increased levels of sensitivity in the intestines.
- Thyroid disease: Some people with an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, experience chronic constipation and slowed digestion.
- Nerve damage: Damage to various nerves in the digestive tract can slow digestion, causing symptoms of STC. Neurological injuries, such as spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries, may also slow digestion.
Slowed digestion is not the only cause of constipation. Some other potential causes include:
A lazy bowel is a symptom and not a diagnosable medical condition. As such, a person who experiences slowed digestion should see their doctor for a diagnosis.
Traditional constipation remedies, such as eating more fiber or drinking more water, may not work for STC. As such, it is important that a doctor receives detailed and accurate information about a person’s symptoms and medical history. This information will help them make an accurate diagnosis.
A doctor may also perform a physical exam to check for abnormalities in the rectum and anus. Some doctors may assess the health of the pelvic floor muscles.
They may also use diagnostic tests and procedures, such as a colonoscopy, to detect any abnormalities in the digestive tract.
The treatment for slowed digestion and STC depends on the specific cause.
Sometimes, a doctor may be unable to identify a medical reason for slow digestion or STC. In this case, it can be helpful for the individual to keep a record of their symptoms as they try different treatments.
Some potential treatments for slowed digestion and STC include those below.
Evaluating fiber intake
Significantly increasing the amount of fiber in the diet may make STC worse. However, very low fiber intake can make stools hard and difficult to pass.
A person should ask their doctor for advice regarding the level of fiber intake that is appropriate for them.
Reducing use of stimulant laxatives
People with STC may find that stimulant laxatives worsen their symptoms. They should reduce the use of these laxatives and talk to their doctor about alternative treatments.
An enema is a procedure that involves flushing out the bowels using an injection of fluid through the rectum.
An enema may help a person have a bowel movement. However, it is important to speak with a doctor about the long-term use of this treatment.
Bowel retraining is a behavioral treatment for bowel disorders such as STC. Some bowel training therapies use biofeedback to help a person retrain their bowels to empty regularly.
There are different methods of delivering biofeedback. One method involves placing electrodes onto the bowel to allow the person to see or hear the activity of their bowel muscles. A person can then use this feedback to understand their bowel movements better and retrain the muscles.
In very rare and extreme cases of slow or inadequate bowel movements, a doctor may recommend surgery to install a colostomy bag. A colostomy bag is generally only appropriate for people who have severe constipation and fecal incontinence due to an underlying neurological disorder.
Interferential electrical stimulation
Interferential electrical stimulation uses painless electrical currents to increase digestion speed and improve the functioning of nerves in the digestive tract. It may be an effective alternative to surgery.
People sometimes use the term lazy bowel to refer to slowed digestion.
Slowed digestion results in infrequent bowel movements, or slow transit constipation, which can cause hard stools, abdominal pain, and painful bowel movements.
There are many potential causes of slowed digestion, some of which are lifestyle factors that are relatively easy to change. Sometimes, slowed digestion is the result of an underlying medical condition that requires appropriate treatment.
People who experience symptoms of slow transit constipation should see a doctor for a diagnosis.