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What is a Bowel Infection?

Nicole Madison
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

A bowel infection is an illness caused by pathogens that invade a person’s digestive tract. The bowel, also called the large intestine, is the lower part of a person’s digestive tract. It is home to many types of bacteria that do not cause infection. Sometimes, however, harmful bacteria may be present in high enough numbers to cause illness. Likewise, viruses and other pathogens can cause infection as well.

When a person has a bowel infection, he may experience rather unpleasant symptoms. For example, a person with this type of infection may develop diarrhea, which are loose, watery stools. In some cases, the bowel movements aren’t loose, but become hard and difficult to move instead. A person may also develop strange-looking bowel movements as a result of a bowel infection. For example, they may be an unusual shape or color.

Besides symptoms that involve the appearance and consistency of a person’s bowel movements, an infection may also be marked by a certain amount of discomfort. For example, a person may experience bloating and gas along with this type of infection. His abdomen may be distended, and he may have an overall feeling of being unwell. In some cases, a bowel infection is also accompanied by fever or bleeding from the rectum.

Sometimes an infection in the bowel can develop as a symptom or effect of a digestive-tract-related disorder. In fact, this type of infection may even contribute to the development of bowel disorders. For example, a person may develop an infection in the bowel that triggers the immune system to try to destroy the pathogen that caused it. This immune system attack may cause inflammation in the bowel that leads to ulcerative colitis, which is marked by pain, diarrhea, and a full range of other symptoms.

Diagnosing a bowel infection can be unpleasant for the affected person. Often, a doctor requests a stool sample in order to be sure of the origins of the infection. In fact, he may require multiple stool samples in order to provide an accurate diagnosis. For example, a doctor may ask his patient to collect a sample over three different days, transporting them to the medical office or a lab for evaluation. The stool is then checked for the presence of illness-causing microorganisms.

Once a doctor has determined the cause of the infection, he can treat it accordingly. This may involve antibiotics or rest and fluids, depending on the severity of the infection and its cause. In some cases, laxatives are prescribed as well.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Nov 14, 2012

@anon171693 - Unfortunately I don't think there are any real tests for IBS, as it is basically the diagnosis that is given out when there is no other apparent cause to a person's distress.

Likewise, there isn't really a treatment for it, like there is with bowel infections of various kinds. You just have to experiment with what works for you and try to stick to a healthy diet within those constraints.

By lluviaporos — On Nov 13, 2012

@anon291285 - That could be any number of things, like irritable bowel syndrome, or even cancer of the bowel. It might even just be that you've become allergic to one of the foods you're eating. People often have problems similar to yours if they are, for example, eating too much artificial sweetener.

However, if you're having bowel movements like that, it's fairly serious, particularly if it has continued for a while and you need to see a doctor about it. Don't just think about it as something you have to live with. There is something wrong and a doctor can help you figure out what it is and correct it.

You should also make sure you are getting plenty of fluids and vitamins as a condition like that can tend to deplete your body. Good luck!

By anon291285 — On Sep 13, 2012

I am a 76 year old male who has type 2 diabetes and for the last year my bowels have been giving me trouble.

The symptoms are I am very gassy, have some bloating and have very runny stool to the point it's like water and hard to control my bowel movements.

By anon213353 — On Sep 10, 2011

I have gas, unstable bowels, frequent urination, weight loss, a runny nose, fever, chills, chewing ice, lower back pain, frequent cramps in legs, general health not good, affecting mentally, depressed, no energy, unstable, memory not good.

By anon177849 — On May 19, 2011

My symptoms are diarrhea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Help!

By anon171693 — On May 01, 2011

I think that i have a bowel infection, but am not sure. My signs are bloating, diarrhea, pain in my side, back and front. A few years ago i was told i had IBS, but was never tested. Help.

By closerfan12 — On Aug 07, 2010

Can yeast cause a bowel infection? I had heard of something called a yeast infection of the bowel, but wasn't sure if this actually existed.

Anybody know?

By pharmchick78 — On Aug 07, 2010

A common, though slightly more disgusting, one of the bowel infection causes is parasites.

The parasites that most commonly cause an infection in the bowel are roundworms (especially pinworms) and tapeworms.

The symptoms of a bowel infection caused by parasites are pretty similar to those caused by bacteria, only in the case of parasites weight loss may also occur.

Although most of the time a parasitic infection may not be serious enough to cause symptoms, if it does become serious and goes untreated, serious consequences can occur.

By EarlyForest — On Aug 07, 2010

Although diarrhea and bloating are the most common bowel infection symptoms, there are several others.

Additional symptoms of bowel infection include particularly dark or particularly light stools are signs of a bowel infection. In the case of a particularly dark or tar-like stool, it may be a sign of blood in the GI tract, and should be checked out immediately, as it can be a sign of a serious condition.

Besides the stool abnormalities, people with bowel infections may feel weak and fatigued.

Any bowel infection should be a cause of concern, and if you suspect you have an infection of the bowel, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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