Constipation

Constipation is not a popular topic that people like to talk about. However, if you’ve suffered from this problem you know it can be both painful and frustrating.

Almost everyone gets constipated at some time during his or her life. Though not usually serious, constipation can be a concern and may lead to other health problems.

constipation

Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. You are considered constipated if you are going longer than three days without a bowel movement. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and more difficult to pass. Constipation is caused by food moving too slowly through the colon, or it can occur when the colon absorbs too much water from digested food as it forms waste products (stool).

In some cases, constipation may be brief, such as may occur when you delay having a bowel movement when the urge is felt. Constipation can also persist over a longer period of time, such as when it is caused by a diet low in fiber and fluids.

Please Note

If your constipation persists, recurs or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
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Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints. Constipation is very common in young children and the elderly but can occur in any age group.

A wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions can lead to constipation, including lifestyle changes, dehydration, malignancy (cancer), inflammation, and other abnormal processes. The most common causes of constipation are:

Poor bowel habits
Poor Diet
Pregnancy
Medications
Age
Caffeine and alcohol
Intestinal obstruction

Constipation may be accompanied by other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms frequently affect the digestive tract but may also affect other body systems.

Digestive symptoms that may occur with constipation

Constipation may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive tract including:

  • Abdominal cramping or pain
  • Abdominal swelling, bloating or distention
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Flatulence, gas or indigestion
  • Full bowel sensation
  • Leaking of small amounts of liquid stool without having a full bowel movement
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rectal pain or burning
  • Straining during bowel movement
In some cases, constipation can be caused by a serious condition of the gastrointestinal tract, such as bowel obstruction. It is important to contact your health care provider if you develop persistent constipation that lasts more than a few days. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the care plan outlined by your doctor can lower your risk of potential complications including:

  • Hemorrhoids
  • Anal Fissures
  • Fecal impaction
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Peritonitis and shock from intestinal obstruction

References

  1. Constipation. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipation/.
  2. Constipation. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003125.htm.
There are several common strategies for addressing constipation beginning with:

Diet Recommendations and Home Help
  • Fiber: Get more fiber or bulk in the diet. If this cannot be done adequately by diet changes, consider adding a fiber supplement to the diet. In general, fiber supplements are not drugs and are safe and effective if taken together with sufficient water. They are not laxatives and must be taken regularly (whether you are constipated or not) in order for them to help you avoid future constipation. They are generally taken suspended in a glass of water one to three times daily. Start with once a day dose, and increase to twice daily after a week, and then to three times daily after another week if necessary.
  • Fluids: Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and fruit juices. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water daily in addition to beverages with meals.
  • Alcohol and Caffeine: Decrease alcohol intake and caffeinated beverages, including coffee, tea, or cola drinks. In general, it is a good idea to have an extra glass of water (over and above the 6 to 8 daily mentioned previously) for every cup of coffee, tea, or alcoholic drink.
  • Laxatives: Avoid using over-the-counter laxatives.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity is an important component in bowel health. Try a daily exercise such as the knee-to-chest position. Such positions may activate bowel movements. Spend about 10-15 minutes in this position. Breathe in and out deeply.
  • Bowel Hygiene: Go to the toilet at the same time every day, preferably after meals, and allow enough time as not to strain while having a bowel movement.
Prevention