Constipation is when you have fewer than three bowel movements per week. The stool associated with constipation is usually hard, dry and small. It can be difficult to pass and may cause the individual pain and discomfort. The person may feel the need to strain to make a bowel movement. They may also feel bloated and have a full bowel feeling.
Who Gets Constipated?
Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint. Most people will experience constipation at some point in their life. It is most common among women and people over the age of 65. Pregnant women also commonly experience constipation both before and after delivery. Constipation is also a common complaint of patients after surgery. It is also common for small children to become constipated.
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation occurs when the bowel removes too much water from the stool on it journey to the rectum through the colon. This can occur because the muscles in the colon allow the stool to move at a sluggish pace or because the colon just absorbs too much water from the waste. This will cause the stool to become hard and dry. Common causes of constipation are as followed.
- not enough fiber in the diet
- lack of physical activity
- ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
- milk and milk products like cheese
- changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, aging, and travel
- abuse of laxatives
- irritable bowel syndrome
- specific diseases or conditions
- problems with intestinal function
- problems with the colon and rectum
You are considered clinically constipated if you are experience any two of the following symptoms for at least 12 weeks a year.
- Fewer than three bowel movements per week
- Straining during a bowel movement
- Hard stool
- Lumpy stool or pellet like stool
- Feeling of incomplete elimination of stool
- Feeling of a blockage or obstruction in the colon or rectum
There are several over-the-counter treatment s for constipation. In fact this market generated over 725 million dollars in sales last year. Laxatives are available for purchase over the counter in your local pharmacy or grocery store. You can choose from laxatives which can be harsh on your system and lead to dependency or a stool softener which softens the stool making easier to pass. You can also purchase suppositories over the counter which can aid in the elimination of hard stool. This can help reduce the complications of constipation such as hemorrhoids and fissures.
Alternative Constipation Treatments
While over the counter treatments are great the only way to prevent and properly treat constipation is through diet and exercise. By eating more fiber and drinking plenty of fluids you can greatly improve constipation on your own. You should add fruits, vegetables and grain which are high in fiber to your diet. You should maintain a diet with 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day. This will help form soft stool. You may need to avoid foods that do not promote soft stools like milk, cheeses, meat and highly processed foods.
You should also drink at least 10 glasses of water a day. Staying well hydrated will also prevent and help relieve constipation. Maintaining a regular exercise routine is also important to help relieve and prevent constipation. Exercise helps stimulate the colon to do its job. It is also important to go to the bathroom when the urge arises. Putting off a bowel movement can also cause constipation. By going when you need to, you can help relieve constipation.
When is Medical Treatment Necessary?
If all the life style changes do not seem to be helping your constipation it is time to consult your physician. A physician can help you get to the root cause of the constipation. In many cases it is a simple change in medicine to correct the constipation problem.
While constipation is not extremely dangerous it can cause complications that can become dangerous. If constipation persists it can lead to hemorrhoids and fissures. Constipation can also cause rectal prolapse, which is when a small portion of the intestine falls out of the rectum.
While diet and life style changes are the best way to improve constipation there are also medical treatments that can help relieve chronic constipation. A physician can monitor the use of laxatives. For chronic constipation, biofeedback is a procedure that allows you to retrain the muscles of the rectum. By retraining the muscles you can relieve the constipation causes by a weak rectal muscle wall. Surgery is also an option for those who suffer from colonic inertia. This condition can cause chronic constipation. Surgery complications should be considered as chronic abdominal pain and diarrhea can be a complication of this surgery.