Bowel assessment

In order to determine the correct treatment pathway, it is essential to undertake a detailed assessment. Components must include an assessment of the persons general health, previous abdominal and colorectal surgery, medications, plus functional ability to reach the toilet, cognition and awareness of bowel sensations, and current bowel management.

Bowel diary and Food diary

The essential components for assessing any person with bowel symptoms should include a food diary, and a bowel diary.

Bristol stool chart

It is also vital to determine which stools the person is experiencing. The Bristol Stool Chart is a good tool to use:

Bristol Stool Chart
Type 1 Type 1 Separated hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).
Type 2 AID0055123 Sausage-shaped but lumpy.
Type 3 AID0055120 Like a sausage, but with cracks on the surface.
Type 4 AID0055124 Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.
Type 5 AID0055121 Soft blobs with clear-cut edges.
Type 6 AID0055122 Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.
Type 7 AID0055119 Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.

Symptom impact scores

There are several tools available to assess bowels. Bowel dysfunction symptoms can be measured by a variety of different scores, some examples are the NBD score, Cleveland Clinic Constipation Score, and Wexner score for fecal incontinence. The bristol stool chart may be used for symptom descriptions. There are also various tools that measure the impact of bowel symptoms, including quality of life assessment. 

Physical examination

In some people, it is necessary to perform a rectal examination. This should be only undertaken by a specialist.

Assessment findings

Once a comprehensive bowel assessment has been undertaken, treatments can be planned which identify any dietary and fluid modifications, or interventions aimed at altering stool consistency, and behavior strategies aimed at regular toileting.

There are a number of ‘red flags’ which may be highlighted if an in-depth bowel assessment is undertaken. These may include reports of blood or mucus in the stools, bowel or rectal pain, spontaneous leakage without any sensation in the absence of neurogenic disease, and if any red flags are discovered during the assessment it is important to refer to the individual to their GP as soon as possible, and document this.