Constipation is a gastrointestinal condition which is generally characterized by three or fewer stools passed in a week. It is very common and affects around 30% of the population. Here’s everything you should know about constipation.
Symptoms of Constipation
Constipation is defined by a few key symptoms. These symptoms include passing three or fewer stools in a week, having difficulty passing stools, having hard or dry stools, noticing blood in stool, having intense rectal or abdominal pain, and feeling like stool is not completely passed. Mild symptoms often resolve quickly, so they are usually not cause to seek medical attention. However, serious symptoms like blood in stool or needing to manually remove stool are signs that you should seek medical help.
It’s important to note that not having a bowel movement every day is not necessarily a sign of constipation. Bowel habits fluctuate for everyone based on a variety of factors. However, you should use the described symptoms as a guide to determine if you need medical help.
Causes and Risk Factors
Constipation most often is caused by stool moving too slowly in the digestive tract. Slow-moving stool is not effectively passed and can become hardened and dried out. Slow-moving stool can happen for a variety of reasons. Blockages from anal fissures, a bowel obstruction, bowel strictures, and certain cancers can lead to constipation. Also, neurological problems can affect nerves that help move stool through the digestive tract. These problems include Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries. Muscular problems can be the root cause too. Weakened pelvis muscles, improperly coordinated pelvic muscles (dyssynergia), and chronically unrelaxed pelvic muscles (anismus) can all prevent proper stool movement. Hormones can play a role sometimes as well. Hormones that help balance fluids may be unbalanced for people who are pregnant, diabetic, or have an underactive thyroid.
There are a few risk factors for constipation. Older people and women are more likely experience constipation. Dehydration, a low-fiber diet, a sedentary lifestyle, some medications, and mental health conditions including depression and eating disorders are also risk factors.
Treatments and Prevention
In most cases, constipation can be treated easily. Most of the time, constipation is a disorder of bowel function and not due to other structural issues. In these cases, focusing on softening stool and getting it moving again is the best treatment. You can do this by hydrating more, eating fiber, and getting more exercise. Sometimes, taking a laxative until the constipation passes may be helpful as well. You should consult a doctor for laxative use, especially if your constipation is severe or chronic.
The same lifestyle changes that can treat constipation are also great ways to prevent it in the first place. Always drink plenty of fluids- six to eight glasses of water per day is a good baseline. However, this varies based on factors including your age, height, weight, sex, and activity level. Avoid consuming too much caffeine, which can cause some dehydration. Eat fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to promote regular bowel movements. You should aim for at least 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Regular exercise is another great way to promote bowel movements too. Finally, always use the restroom when you feel the urge. Holding it in can cause fecal matter to accumulate and lead to constipation.
Our experienced team at GHP has years of experience helping people manage and treat constipation. We can help establish the best plan of care for your situation. Contact any of our office locations to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.