Award Winner, Author, Emotional Intelligence Master Coach
Chronic constipation is infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools that persists for several weeks or longer. Constipation is generally described as having fewer than three bowel movements a week.
Constipation occurs when a person has difficulty emptying the large bowel. Home remedies and lifestyle changes can often help resolve it, but sometimes, it may need medical attention.
Who is at risk for constipation?
Eating a poor diet and not exercising are major risk factors for constipation. You may also be at greater risk if you’re: Age 65 or older. Older adults tend to be less physically active, have underlying diseases, and eat poorer diets. Confined to bed. Those who have certain medical conditions, such as spinal cord injuries, often have difficulty with bowel movements. A woman or child. Women have more frequent episodes of constipation than men, and children are affected more often than adults. Pregnant. Hormonal changes and pressure on your intestines from your growing baby can lead to constipation.
How is constipation diagnosed?
Many people affected by constipation choose to self-treat by changing their diets, increasing exercise, or using over-the-counter laxatives. However, laxatives shouldn’t be used for more than two weeks without consulting a physician. Your body can become dependent on them for colon function. You should talk to your primary care provider if: you’ve had constipation for more than three weeks you have blood in your stool you have abdominal pain you’re experiencing pain during bowel movements you’re losing weight you have sudden changes in your bowel movements Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, medical history, and any medications or underlying conditions. A physical examination may include a rectal exam and blood tests to check your blood count, electrolytes, and thyroid function.
How does constipation happen?
Constipation happens because your colon absorbs too much water from waste (stool/poop), which dries out the stool making it hard in consistency and difficult to push out of the body. To back up a bit, as food normally moves through the digestive tract, nutrients are absorbed. The partially digested food (waste) that remains moves from the small intestine to the large intestine, also called the colon. The colon absorbs water from this waste, which creates a solid matter called stool. If you have constipation, food may move too slowly through the digestive tract. This gives the colon more time – too much time – to absorb water from the waste. The stool becomes dry, hard, and difficult to push out.
Can constipation cause internal damage or lead to other health problems?
There are a few complications that could happen if you don’t have soft, regular bowel movements. Some complications include: Swollen, inflamed veins in your rectum (a condition called hemorrhoids). Tears in the lining of your anus from hardened stool trying to pass through (called anal fissures). An infection in pouches that sometimes form off the colon wall from stool that has become trapped and infected (a condition called diverticulitis) A pile-up of too much stool/poop in the rectum and anus (a condition called fecal impaction). Damage to your pelvic floor muscles from straining to move your bowels. These muscles help control your bladder. Too much straining for too long a period of time may cause urine to leak from the bladder (a condition called stress urinary incontinence).
What causes constipation?
Constipation usually is caused by the slow movement of material through the colon (large bowel). Two disorders that cause constipation; 1) are colonic inertia, and pelvic floor dysfunction. There are many causes of and associations with constipation, for example, medications; poor bowel habits; low fiber diets; possibly abuse of laxatives; hormonal disorders; diseases primarily of other parts of the body that also affect the colon; and high levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy.
What are the signs and symptoms of constipation?
Signs and symptoms of constipation may include rectal bleeding and/or anal fissures that are caused by hard or small stools, lower abdominal discomfort, and straining to have a bowel movement. Call you doctor or other health care professional for treatment for constipation if you have a sudden onset if symptoms that come on suddenly that are severe pain that worsens and are associated with other worrisome symptoms such as suddenly losing weight, or is not responding to simple, safe and effective treatments.