Constipation is a common condition that affects your digestive system, specifically your bowel movements. It is characterized by having fewer than three bowel movements a week, straining to have bowel movements, passing hard or lumpy stools, or feeling as though there’s a blockage in your rectal area that prevents bowel movements.

These symptoms are generally a result of the slow movement of stool through the digestive tract, which causes it to become hard and dry, making it difficult to pass. Some potential causes of constipation can include a low-fiber diet, lack of physical activity, certain medications, and sometimes even stress or emotional issues.

ConstipationIn most cases, constipation is not serious and can be alleviated with changes in diet, increased fluid intake, more physical activity, and in some instances, over-the-counter or prescription medications. However, chronic constipation could potentially indicate a more serious underlying condition, and any noticeable changes in bowel habits should be brought to the attention of a healthcare provider.

Causes of Constipation

Constipation can be caused by several factors:

1. Lack of Fiber: A diet that lacks fiber, which is found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can cause constipation.

2. Physical Inactivity: Lack of physical activity can also lead to constipation.

3. Medications: Certain medications, such as antidepressants, iron supplements, narcotics, and certain types of antacids, can lead to constipation.

4. Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can harden the stool, making it difficult to pass.

5. Ignoring the Urge to Go: If you consistently ignore the urge to have a bowel movement, over time you might stop feeling the urge.

6. Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis can cause constipation.

7. Mental Health Issues: Stress, anxiety, and depression can also cause constipation in some people.

8. Aging: As people get older, their metabolism slows down, leading to decreased bowel activity.

9. Pregnancy: Pregnancy can lead to constipation due to hormonal changes and pressure on the intestines from the growing uterus.

10. Overuse of Laxatives: Over time, the body can become dependent on laxatives for bowel movements, leading to constipation.

The causes can vary from person to person and it can often be a combination of factors. If constipation is a persistent issue, consulting a healthcare provider is recommended for a thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment plan.

Risk Factors of Constipation

The risk factors for constipation include:

1. Age: Older adults are more likely to experience constipation because metabolism slows down as we age, resulting in less intestinal activity and muscle tone.

2. Gender: Women are more likely to become constipated due to hormonal changes. The condition may also worsen during pregnancy.

3. Dehydration: Not drinking enough water can make your stool hard and difficult to pass.

4. Lack of dietary fiber: A diet low in fiber, which is mostly found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can cause constipation.

5. Lack of physical activity: Physical activity helps keep your digestive system active and reduces the time it takes food to move through the large intestine, which can help with constipation.

6. Medications: Some drugs, such as certain antacids, painkillers, and blood pressure medications, can cause constipation.

7. Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement: Ignoring your body’s signals to have a bowel movement can lead to constipation over time.

8. Health conditions: Some metabolic and digestive conditions (like diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome), neurological conditions (like Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries), or hormonal imbalances can cause constipation.

9. Mental health issues: Stress, depression, and other psychological issues can also contribute to constipation.

10. Excessive consumption of dairy or processed foods: These can lead to constipation in some people.

It’s important to be aware of these risk factors so that you can take preventative measures, or address any ongoing issues that could be contributing to constipation.

Signs and Symptoms of Constipation

Constipation is a common condition that affects people of all ages. Here are some signs and symptoms associated with it:

1. Infrequent Bowel Movements: One of the most obvious signs of constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements a week. However, this can vary depending on the person. Some people might go a few days without a bowel movement and feel perfectly fine, while others might feel uncomfortable after just one day.

2. Difficulty Passing Stool: This is a hallmark symptom of constipation. You might have to strain or push harder than usual to pass stool.

3. Hard or Lumpy Stool: Constipation often leads to stools that are dry, hard, and lumpy, making them difficult to pass.

4. Feeling of Incomplete Evacuation: Even after having a bowel movement, you might still feel like there’s stool left in your rectum.

5. Bloating or Distention of the Abdomen: This symptom may result from impacted feces in the colon.

6. Stomach Pain or Discomfort: This could be due to the strain of trying to pass the hard stool, or due to the buildup of stool in the colon causing pressure.

7. Lack of Appetite: Prolonged constipation can sometimes result in a loss of appetite.

8. Nausea and/or Vomiting: This is less common but can be a symptom of severe constipation if the colon becomes significantly backed up.

If symptoms of constipation persist for several weeks, or if they are accompanied by more severe symptoms like blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss, or severe abdominal pain, it’s important to seek medical attention, as this could indicate a more serious condition.

Diagnosis Constipation

Constipation is a common condition that affects people of all ages. It can mean that you’re not passing stools (feces) as often as you normally do, you have to strain more than usual or you’re unable to completely empty your bowels.

Constipation can also cause your stools to be hard and lumpy, as well as unusually large or small.

The severity can vary from person to person. Some people only experience constipation for a short period of time, while for others, constipation can be a chronic (long-term) condition that causes significant pain and discomfort and affects quality of life.

Many factors can contribute to constipation, including a diet low in fiber, change in routine or lifestyle, not drinking enough water, lack of exercise, ignoring the urge to pass stools, certain medications, stress, and certain health conditions. Doctors may make a diagnosis based on symptoms, medical history, physical examination, or additional tests if they suspect an underlying condition or for severe cases.

Treatment for constipation typically involves lifestyle changes such as eating more high-fiber foods, drinking more fluids, getting regular exercise, and not ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement. In some cases, a doctor may recommend medications or supplements to help soften the stool or stimulate the intestines to move the stool along. Rarely, chronic severe constipation may require more invasive treatments or surgery.

Treatment of Constipation

The treatment of constipation typically involves changes in diet, exercise, and lifestyle, as well as the use of certain medications. Here are the main approaches:

1. Diet Changes: Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet can help move stool through your colon more quickly. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Drinking plenty of water and other hydrating fluids like fruit juices can also help in relieving constipation.

2. Physical Activity: Regular exercise can help stimulate the muscles in your intestines, resulting in more regular bowel movements.

3. Over-the-counter Laxatives: There are several types of laxatives available, all with different ways of helping to stimulate bowel movements. Examples include bulk-forming laxatives, stimulant laxatives, osmotic laxatives, and stool softeners. Remember to use these only as directed by a healthcare professional.

4. Prescription Medications: If over-the-counter treatments aren’t effective, your doctor may recommend prescription drugs to help stimulate your bowel and make it easier to pass stool.

5. Biofeedback: For chronic constipation, especially when it’s related to pelvic floor dysfunction, biofeedback therapy might be recommended. This is a type of physical therapy that teaches you to use muscles more effectively.

6. Surgery: In very rare cases where constipation is caused by physical abnormalities or caused by a specific condition like colorectal stricture or anal fissure, surgery may be required.

Remember, long-term use of some laxatives can lead to dependency and an inability to achieve bowel movements without them, so they should be used sparingly and under the advice of a healthcare provider. As every individual is unique, consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment for you.

Medications commonly used for Constipation

The common medications used for treating constipation include:

1. Stool Softeners: These are commonly used medications that soften the stool and make it easier to pass. Docusate is a commonly used stool softener.

2. Osmotic Laxatives: These draw water into the gut to soften the stool and promote bowel movement. Common examples are Lactulose and polyethylene glycol (Miralax).

3. Stimulant Laxatives: These speed up the movement of stool through the intestines. Examples include bisacodyl (Dulcolax) and sennosides (Senokot).

4. Bulk-Forming Laxatives: These add bulk to the stool to help it move through the intestines. Examples include psyllium (Metamucil), methylcellulose (Citrucel) and polycarbophil (FiberCon).

5. Lubricant Laxatives: These work by coating the bowel and the stool mass with a waterproof film. This keeps moisture in the stool. The stool remains soft and slippery, and slides through the colon more easily. Mineral oil is an example.

6. Saline Laxatives: These draw water into the small intestine to encourage a bowel movement. Examples include magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia), magnesium citrate, sodium phosphate (Fleet Saline).

7. Chloride Channel Activators: These require a prescription and include the drug lubiprostone (Amitiza).

8. Guanylate Cyclase-C Agonists: These are newer drugs that increase the amount of fluid in your gastrointestinal tract to help expedite bowel movements. Examples include plecanatide (Trulance) and linaclotide (Linzess).

Always consult your doctor or a pharmacist before starting any new medication regimen. It’s advantageous to start with the mildest and least invasive treatments, such as dietary changes and exercise, before moving up to medication. Different medications can work differently for each person, and some can lead to dependency with long-term use. Therefore it’s essential to use them appropriately under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Prevention of Constipation

Constipation can be quite uncomfortable and in some cases, serious if chronic. Here’s how you can prevent constipation:

1. Drink plenty of fluids daily: Staying well-hydrated can help soften your stool and make it easier to pass. Water is a good choice, but you can also drink other fluids such as fruit and vegetable juices or clear soups.

2. Include more fiber in your diet: Fiber can add bulk to your stool and help it move through your digestive tract more easily. Foods rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, and legumes such as beans and lentils.

Fiber food

3. Regular exercise: Physical activity can help stimulate the muscles in your intestines, helping move things along more smoothly. You don’t need to run a marathon – even a daily walk can make a big difference.

4. Set a regular meal schedule: Eating at regular intervals can help regulate your digestive system and prevent constipation.

5. Avoid holding in your bowel movements: Doing so can make your stool harder and more difficult to pass. When you feel the urge to go, take the time to do so.

6. Limit foods that are high in fat or sugar: These foods can slow down your digestive process and cause constipation.

7. Minimize stress: Stress can also affect your digestive system and lead to constipation. Consider stress-reducing activities such as meditation or deep-breathing exercises.

If constipation persists even after incorporating these changes, it is recommended to contact a healthcare professional as it might be a sign of a more serious condition.

Note that the points given are general guidelines, your bodily response may vary. Always refer to a healthcare provider for proper medical advice.

FAQ’s about Constipation

1. What is constipation?
Constipation is a common condition that affects people of all ages. It can mean that you’re not passing stools regularly or you’re unable to completely empty your bowel.

2. What are the symptoms of constipation?
Symptoms can include needing to strain in the toilet, passing fewer than three stools a week, feeling like you can’t empty the stool from your rectum, and having hard or lumpy stools.

3. What causes constipation?
Constipation can be caused by various things, such as not eating enough fiber, not drinking enough fluids, lack of physical activity, changes in routine or life (like pregnancy, aging or travel), stress, and certain medications.

4. How is constipation diagnosed?
Your doctor will typically ask about your symptoms, medical history, and diet. They may also carry out a physical examination. Sometimes, further testing may be required to rule out other conditions.

5. How is constipation treated?
Initial treatment usually involves changes to diet and lifestyle, over-the-counter treatments like laxatives, and, sometimes, prescribed medication. More serious cases may require further treatment.

6. Is constipation serious?
In most cases, constipation is not serious and can be managed with simple diet and lifestyle changes. But if it lasts a long time or is accompanied by other worrying symptoms, it could be a sign of an underlying condition and should be checked out by a doctor.

7. Can I prevent constipation?
Yes. Eating a high-fiber diet, staying hydrated, getting regular exercise, and not ignoring the urge to go to the toilet can all help to prevent constipation.

8. When should I see a doctor about constipation?
If constipation symptoms last for more than a few weeks, or if they’re accompanied by other signs like blood in your stool, weight loss, or severe pain, you should seek medical advice.

9. Can medications cause constipation?
Yes, certain medications like iron supplements, some antidepressants, and narcotic pain medications can cause constipation. Always check the side effects of any medication you’re taking.

10. Can constipation be a sign of colon cancer?
Persistent constipation can sometimes be a symptom of colon cancer. However, it is only one potential sign among many, and constipation is far more often due to less serious causes. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider if you notice unusual changes in your bowel habits.

Useful links

Constipation refers to bowel movements that are infrequent or hard to pass. It’s a common condition that can often be resolved with dietary and lifestyle changes. Here are some useful links from journals for constipation:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17643910/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21943617/

Remember that all health issues and potential treatments should be discussed with a healthcare provider.

Complications of Constipation

Constipation is a common condition that affects people of all ages. It can mean that you’re not passing stools regularly or you’re unable to completely empty your bowel. Here are some of the complications that can arise from constipation:

1. Hemorrhoids: Chronic constipation can lead to the development of hemorrhoids. These are swollen blood vessels in and around the anus and rectum that can cause discomfort, itching, and even bleeding.

2. Anal fissures: These are small tears in the anus that typically cause pain, red blood on the toilet paper, and possibly itching. They are often caused by large or hard stools stretching the mucosa of the anus.

3. Fecal impaction: This happens when hard stool gets stuck in the colon and can’t be expelled. This can result in pain and vomiting, and need immediate medical attention.

4. Rectal prolapse: This condition occurs when long-term straining causes a small amount of rectal tissue to stretch and protrude from the anus.

5. Psychological discomfort: Chronic constipation can also lead to feelings of discomfort and bloating, which can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. It can cause anxiety or embarrassment, and in severe cases, could lead to depression.

6. Bowel incontinence: In some cases, chronic constipation can lead to a condition where there is a loss of control over bowel movements, causing involuntary leakage of stools.

7. Physical damage to digestive system: In very severe cases, particularly in elderly individuals, long-term constipation can potentially lead to physical damage to parts of the digestive system.

If you are suffering from chronic constipation, it is advisable to seek medical advice to prevent these complications. Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, over-the-counter treatments, prescription medications, and in some situations, surgery.

Home remedies of Constipation

Certainly, here are some home remedies for constipation:

1. Water: Staying well-hydrated is one of the most effective ways to prevent and alleviate constipation. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water per day.

2. Fiber-Rich Foods: Consuming a diet high in fiber can help promote regular bowel movements. Foods rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

3. Prune Juice and Prunes: Prunes are often referred to as a natural laxative because they contain sorbitol, which has a laxative effect. You can either eat prunes as a snack or drink prune juice.

4. Regular Exercise: Physical activity can help stimulate the muscles in the intestines and help bowel movements. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.

5. Probiotics: These beneficial bacteria aid digestion and can help prevent constipation. They can be found in foods like yogurt and kefir, as well as in supplement form.

6. Herbal teas: Certain herbal teas, like senna, can have a laxative effect. But these should be used with caution, as long-term use can lead to dependency.

7. Flaxseeds: They can also aid in digestion. They can be ground up and added to cereals or yogurt.

Please remember that persistent constipation should be evaluated by a healthcare professional as it may be a symptom of a more serious condition. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment regimen.

Categorized in:

Digestive Health,

Last Update: December 29, 2023