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6 Embarassing Bathroom Questions—Answered


Wonder no more! We've got answers to six of your top bathroom questions. (Embarrassment not required.)

Q. If I don't touch anything but toilet paper when I go to the bathroom, do I really need to wash my hands?

A. Let's put this into perspective here: Would you want your co-worker to wash his hands after going to the bathroom (even if he didn't touch anything but toilet paper) right before he works with you?

Frankly, it's not realistic to think that you won't touch anything but toilet paper. You would most likely have to touch the bathroom door, the door to the stall, your own clothing and body, and so on. Any of these things can carry potentially infectious material.

—Kevin S. Liu, M.D., board-certified family doctor in Keller, Texas

Q. Can holding your urine for too long cause problems?

A. Yes. Over time, continual swelling of the bladder can injure its ability to contract and completely empty. Large amounts of urine sitting in the bladder can also act as a good medium for bacterial growth, leading to urinary-tract infections.

—Larry I. Lipschultz, M.D., professor of urology, Scott Department of Urology; chief, Division of Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine

Q. If my poop looks funny, when should I worry?

A. For the most part, your stool is probably fine unless it bothers you. However, chronic flattening of one side or slender stools might indicate narrowing of the colon; tell your health-care provider. (You could have irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer or something else.)

newsletter-graphicColor changes to yellows and greens are normal because the stool is colored by yellow bile. Red to deep purple hues may indicate bleeding: Contact your healthcare provider immediately.

—Patricia Raymond, M.D., board-certified gastroenterologist, Chesapeake, Va.; author, Colonoscopy: It’ll Crack U Up!; assistant professor, clinical internal medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School

Get expert-written articles like this every month in our free health newsletter.

Q. What constitutes excess gas?
A. Everyone passes about two liters per day; it's a problem when it troubles you.


Q. What causes gas?
A. Swallowing air causes nonsmelly gas; poorly fitting dentures, drinking through straws and carbonated beverages contribute.

Smelly gas comes from bowel bacteria composting unabsorbed foods and producing that raw-egg smell.


Q. How can I prevent gas?

A. Keep a food/gas diary to determine which foods cause the gas, and consider activated-charcoal tablets to absorb the gas. (Caution: May absorb your medications too!)


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Last updated and/or approved: January 2012.
Original article appeared in May/June 2009 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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