National Continence Helpline

8am - 8pm Monday to Friday AEST Talk to a continence nurse

Change in bowel habits

Get help from a health care professional, or talk to your supervisor or care coordinator if:

  • the person looks unwell or has pain in their abdomen (stomach) or anus (bottom)
  • the bowel motion looks black, dark red or bright red
  • there is blood in the toilet bowel or on the toilet paper


Most people have their own regular pattern of bowel movements. A change in bowel habits means that there has been a change in someone's normal pattern. Bowel habits can change because of a short-term problem, e.g. an infection like gastroenteritis (gastro), or because of a major health problem, e.g cancer. The reason for a change in bowel habits needs to be worked out quickly. 

The person you support should go to their general practitioner (GP) or other health care professional as soon as possible if they:

  • have blood in their bowel motions
  • are unable to pass wind (fart)
  • have mucus in their bowel motion
  • have watery, loose bowel motions for more than 24 hours
  • have pus in their bowel motion
  • have severe pain in their stomach.

What should you look for?

It's important to collect information about the change in bowel habits, so that you can tell the person's GP or other health care professional when you see them. Take note of:

  • what has changed and record the bowel motion changes in a bowel diary or in their care plan
  • any changes in what they eat or drink
  • any new medicines they have started taking - don't stop the medicine, but tell their GP if their bowel habits changed after they started a new medicine
  • if the person is taking laxatives. If they normally take laxatives, check if the person is taking them as recommended.

Need more help? Call the National Continence Helpline on 18OO 33 OO 66 and talk to a continence nurse advisor.

Extra Resources

This information is not a substitute for independent professional advice.