Think of it as your personal garbage disposal: Your colon (aka your bowel or large intestine) absorbs minerals and water from food before pushing the remains out into the toilet where they belong. A lot can go wrong in that seemingly simple process, though, leading to conditions from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
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IBS "is a term doctors use to describe gastrointestinal issues such as recurrent diarrhea, bloating and/or constipation that they can't explain," says Alex Ky, MD, a colorectal surgeon at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. IBD is a group of diseases and the two most common in women are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Symptoms of both include chronic diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, fever, rectal bleeding and unexplained weight loss, says Dr. Ky.
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Conditions like these can be difficult to diagnose. So what's a healthy bowel movement? Check your stool know-how with our quiz.