Information about Constipation, Including Its Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Preventative Measures
When bowel movements become less frequent and stools become difficult to pass, a condition known as constipation may develop. The most common causes include changes in diet or habit, as well as insufficient consumption of fiber in the diet. If you are experiencing significant discomfort, blood in your stools, or constipation that has lasted for more than three weeks, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician.
What exactly is constipation?
Constipation is medically defined as the condition in which an individual has less than three bowel motions per week. However, the frequency with which one “goes” might vary greatly from one individual to the next. While some individuals have bowel movements many times per day, others may only have them once or twice each week. As long as you don’t deviate from your regular routine an excessive amount, your pattern of bowel movements is normal and typical for you, no matter what it is.
One thing is clear, regardless of the regularity of your bowel movements: the longer you go without having a bowel movement (also known as “going”), the more difficult it is for feces or poop to pass. Other essential characteristics that often serve to characterize constipation include the following:
- The consistency of your feces is dry and firm.
- It hurts when you have a bowel movement, and passing stools is tough for you.
- The sensation that your bowels are not completely empty persists despite your best efforts.
How frequently is having difficulty passing stool?
You are not alone if you experience constipation. One of the most common symptoms of gastrointestinal distress that people in the United States experience is constipation. Constipation sends at least 2.5 million individuals to the doctor each year in the United States alone.
Constipation may affect people of any age, and it can happen on more than one occasion. There are also some persons and circumstances that increase the likelihood of one developing chronic constipation, which is characterized by the inability to pass stool on a regular basis. These are the following:
Older age. When compared to when they were younger, older adults often engage in less physical activity, have a metabolism that is slower, and have less muscular contraction strength throughout their digestive system.
Being a woman, particularly during pregnancy and in the weeks and months following giving birth. Hormonal shifts during a woman’s menstrual cycle might cause the condition known as constipation. The intestines are compressed while the infant is still within the uterus, which slows down the process of defecation.
Consuming an insufficient amount of foods rich in fiber. Foods that are high in fiber help move food more quickly through the digestive system.
Using certain pharmaceuticals as treatment (see causes).
Experiencing some neurological conditions (diseases of the brain and spinal cord) in addition to stomach issues (see causes).
What causes a person to get constipated?
Your colon absorbs an excessive amount of water from waste (stool/poop), which dries up the stool, making it dry, hard, and difficult to push out of the body. This condition is known as constipation.
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To start from the beginning, the body absorbs nutrients from food as it regularly travels through the digestive system. After passing through the small intestine, the food that has been partly digested and is now considered waste passes on to the large intestine, generally known as the colon.
The colon consumes some of this waste’s water, which results in the formation of a solid substance known as stool. Food could flow through the digestive system at an abnormally sluggish rate if you suffer from constipation. This provides the colon with more time and an excessive amount of time to take in water from the waste. The feces dries up, gets firm, and is difficult to expel as a result.
Is it possible for constipation to cause harm to the internal organs or lead to other health issues?
If you do not have bowel motions that are soft and regular, there is a chance that you might develop a few issues. Some of the problems include the following:
Veins in your rectum that are swollen and irritated (a condition called hemorrhoids).
There are tears in the lining of your anus as a result of the hard stool straining to get through (called anal fissures).
Infection occurs in pouches, which may at times develop off of the wall of the colon. These pouches arise as a result of feces that have been stuck and contaminated (a condition called diverticulitis)
A buildup of an excessive amount of feces and/or waste in the rectum and anus (a condition called fecal impaction).
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If you strain to move your bowels, you might cause damage to the muscles on the floor of your pelvis. These muscles assist in maintaining control over your bladder. When a person strains himself excessively for an extended length of time, it increases the risk of pee leaking from their bladder (a condition called stress urinary incontinence).
If I do not have regular bowel movements, would this cause wastes to build up in my system, which in turn will make me ill?
Don’t be concerned; in most situations, this won’t be the case. Constipation is a condition in which the colon retains feces for a longer period of time than normal, which may cause discomfort. However, the colon is a container that can grow to accommodate more waste. If waste enters an open wound in the colon or rectum, there is a possibility that it might lead to an infection caused by bacteria. This risk is, however, quite low.
What are the reasons for constipation?
Constipation may be brought on by a variety of factors, including choices in lifestyle, drugs, medical problems, and even pregnancy.
Constipation is often brought on by common lifestyle factors such as:
- Consuming foods that are poor in fiber content.
- Not drinking enough water (dehydration).
- Insufficient time spent on physical activity.
- Alterations to your typical schedule, such as going to bed or getting up at a different time, traveling, or eating at a different hour.
- consuming a significant quantity of milk or cheese.
- battling the want to empty one’s bowels or have a bowel movement.
Among the medications that have been shown to produce constipation are:
Painkillers of a strong kind, such as those containing codeine, oxycodone (Oxycontin), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid).
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) are examples of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs).
antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (like fluoxetine, which is sold under the brand name Prozac) or tricyclic antidepressants (such as amitriptyline, which is sold under the brand name Elavil).
antacids using calcium or aluminum, such as the brand-name product Tums.
Medication for allergies, such as antihistamines (such as diphenhydramine, which is sold under the brand name Benadryl).
Various medications that are used to treat high blood pressure, such as calcium channel blockers (such as verapamil [Calan SR], diltiazem Cardizem, and nifedipine Procardia) and beta-blockers (such as atenolol Tenormin).
Medication used in the treatment of mental disorders, such as clozapine (Clozaril) and olanzapine (Zyprexa).
Medications that prevent seizures and convulsions, including phenytoin and gabapentin, for example.
Medications that help prevent nausea, such as ondansetron Zofran.
There are a lot of medications that might make you constipated. If you have any questions or concerns, you should consult with either your doctor or your pharmacist.
The following are some examples of medical and health conditions that can lead to constipation:
Conditions affecting the endocrine system include hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), diabetes, hypercalcemia, and uremia.
- Colorectal cancer.
- Syndrome of the irritable bowel
- Diverticular disease.
- Outlet dysfunction constipation. (A dysfunction in the coordination of the muscles that make up the pelvic floor. These muscles provide support for the organs that are located in the pelvic and lower abdominal region. They are essential because they facilitate bowel movement.)
- Neurological conditions such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke are examples of neurological disorders.
- Lazy bowel syndrome. The colon does not contract properly, and stool is retained.
Obstruction of the intestinal tract.
- Defects in the digestive tract’s underlying structure (like fistula, colonic atresia, volvulus, intussusception, imperforate anus, or malrotation.)
- Amyloidosis, lupus, and scleroderma are examples of diseases that affect multiple organs.
What signs and symptoms are associated with constipation?
The following are some symptoms of constipation:
- You have a bowel movement frequency of fewer than three times per week.
- Your feces are dry, lumpy, and/or hard to the touch.
- You may have discomfort or difficulty while passing your feces.
- You are suffering from abdominal pain or cramping.
- You are experiencing bloating as well as nausea.
- After having a bowel movement, you get the sensation that you have not entirely emptied your bowels.
When I go to see my doctor about my constipation, what should I expect from the conversation?
It is not the most pleasant of conversations to have with your doctor, or with anyone else for that matter, about your bowel movements (or lack thereof).
Remember that your physician is there to help you in any way they can. Doctors are highly educated health professionals who have conferred with their patients on virtually every aspect of their health care that can be conceived of.
Your physician will begin by inquiring about your past medical history, your bowel movements, as well as your lifestyle, and the routines that you follow.
What kinds of lab tests and other medical examinations might be performed to determine the reason for my chronic constipation?
Your physician has the ability to order no tests at all or a wide variety of different tests and procedures. Your symptoms, past medical history, and overall health will all play a role in your doctor’s decision regarding which ones he or she will recommend for you to take.
Blood and urine tests carried out in the laboratory reveal indicators of hypothyroidism, anemia, and diabetes. A sample of the patient’s stool is analyzed for any indications of infection, inflammation, or cancer.
Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a series of tests on the lower gastrointestinal tract may be recommended in order to rule out any other conditions that may be the root of your constipation.
Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, in which a scope is used to obtain an internal view of the patient’s colon, may be performed. During this process, a biopsy, which is the taking of a small tissue sample for the purpose of testing for cancer or other conditions, may be performed, and any polyps that are discovered will be removed.
Colorectal transit studies require the patient to take a tiny dosage of radioactive material, either in the form of a pill or as part of a meal, and then watch the length of time the substance spends moving through the patient’s intestines as well as how the substance goes through the intestines.
Additional tests to evaluate bowel function may be ordered by your physician. These tests will evaluate how effectively your anus and rectum are able to contain and expel feces. These tests include the introduction of a tiny balloon into the rectum as well as a specific kind of x-ray called a defecography. Defecography is performed to rule out potential reasons for outlet dysfunction constipation (balloon expulsion test and anorectal manometry).
What kind of treatment is there for constipation?
You should be able to handle most cases of mild to moderate constipation on your own at home. Taking an inventory of what you eat and drink and then making adjustments to those habits is the first step in practicing self-care.
The following are some suggestions that may be helpful in relieving your constipation:
An extra water intake of two to four glasses per day is recommended. Drinks containing caffeine and alcohol, both of which can lead to dehydration, should be avoided.
Include more high-fiber foods in your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Reduce your consumption of high-fat foods such as meat, eggs, and cheese.
Consume some prunes, as well as bran cereal.
You should keep a food diary so that you can identify the foods that cause you to have constipation.
Move around and do some exercise.
Examine your posture while you’re using the restroom. It’s possible that elevating your feet, leaning back, or squatting will make it simpler for you to have a bowel movement.
If necessary, you should take a stool softener or laxative that is available over the counter and is extremely gentle, such as docusate (which is sold under the brand name Colace) or Milk of Magnesia. There are also additional choices available, including mineral oil enemas (such as Fleet) and stimulant laxatives, such as bisacodyl (Dulcolax) or senna (Senokot). There is a wide variety of laxatives available. In order to make an informed decision, consult your pharmacist or your primary care physician. Laxatives should not be used for more than two weeks without consulting your primary care physician. Laxatives should not be used in excess since they might make your symptoms worse.
Do not read, use your phone, or engage in any other activity that requires your attention while attempting to evacuate your bowels.
Surgery is only required as a last resort for the treatment of constipation. If, on the other hand, the cause of your constipation is a structural issue in the colon, your doctor may suggest that you undergo surgery. The term “intestinal obstruction” refers to a blockage in the colon, “intestinal stricture” refers to a narrowing in a portion of the intestine, and “anal fissure” refers to a tear in the anus.
Other examples of these problems include the collapse of part of the rectum into the vagina (rectal prolapse). Surgery may be an option for treating certain conditions that lead to outlet dysfunction, such as constipation. It is best to discuss this after the testing has been completed. If cancer was found in your colon, rectum, or anus, you might also require surgical intervention.