Constipation

Constipation

What Is Constipation?

Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. The normal length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements three times a day; others, only one or two times a week. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement is too long. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and more difficult to pass.
You are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following for at least 3 months:
Straining during a bowel movement more than 25% of the time
Hard stools more than 25% of the time
Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time
Two or fewer bowel movements in a week

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation is usually caused by a disorder of bowel function rather than a structural problem. Common causes of constipation include:

 

  • Inadequate water intake
  • Inadequate fiber in the diet
  • A disruption of regular diet or routine; traveling
  • Inadequate activity or exercise or immobility
  • Eating large amounts of dairy products
  • Stress
  • Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, which is sometimes the result of pain from hemorrhoids
  • Overuse of laxatives (stool softeners) which, over time, weaken the bowel muscles
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis
  • Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Medicines (especially strong pain medicines, such as narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills)
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Colon cancer

What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?

  • Infrequent bowel movements and/or difficulty having bowel movements
  • Swollen abdomen or abdominal pain
  • Pain
  • Vomiting

Warning About Constipation

Call your doctor if:

 

  • Constipation is a new problem for you
  • You have blood in your stool
  • You are losing weight even though you are not dieting
  • You have severe pain with bowel movements
  • Your constipation has lasted more than two weeks

How Is Constipation Diagnosed?

Tests your doctor may perform to diagnose the cause of your constipation include:

 

  • Blood tests if a hormonal imbalance is suspected
  • Barium studies to look for obstruction of the colon
  • Colonoscopy to look for obstruction of the colon

What is the treatment for Constipaton?

If you are constipated, try the following:

 

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day (unless fluid restricted).
  • Try warm liquids, especially in the morning.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your diet.
  • Eat prunes and/or bran cereal.
  • If needed, use a very mild stool softener or laxative (such as Peri-Colace or Milk of Magnesia). Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor, as laxative overuse can aggravate your symptoms.