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Intestine & digestion

Understanding the intestine, a practical guide

July 3, 2018

A “second brain” is said to be hidden in the intestine. Intestinal movements and the ways and times we go to the toilet are often indicative of our state of health, as well as of our psychological well being. We talk about this topic with Dr. Federica Furfaro, gastroenterologist at Humanitas.


Your bowels are communicating

Signs of anything from illness to stress can occur when we go to the toilet. The key is to know what to look for. Therefore, it is necessary to know how to read our intestines and their signs.


  • There is no such thing as a standard. People are different as are intestinal movements. The size, shape and consistency of stools vary greatly from person to person. Going to the bathroom very often or too little, having liquid or solid stools can be signs of something. Although there is no uniform standard for all, it is important to be careful about the function of the intestine.


  • Blood is a warning signal. If there is blood in the feces you should consult a doctor immediately. Blood may be a sign of polyps or colorectal cancer. But it can also be caused by benign conditions such as hemorrhoids and anal fissures. In any case, it is worth checking it out. If you notice the presence of blood in the feces it is useful to keep an eye on other symptoms such as weight loss, the presence of fever or anemia, the concomitant alteration of bowel function (the presence of constipation or diarrhea) or the presence of abdominal pain.


  • A change in size in the feces can be a sign for concern. In some types of colon cancers, the intestine shrinks, and intestinal movements can be reduced. Again, you should consult your doctor.


  • The frequency counts. Semi-liquid or aqueous feces may indicate mild food poisoning or infection. In cases of frequent diarrhea it is important to rule out the presence of celiac disease or chronic inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, which should be suspected especially if associated with other symptoms including abdominal pain, blood in the stools or weight loss.
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