Contributed by: Abshar Faheem
Constipation is a condition when your bowel movements are tough or occur less often than normal. In constipation, a person can face difficulty while emptying the large bowel or large intestines. It can occur with anyone regardless of age and gender. Constipation is not usually a serious condition and you can resolve it with home remedies and lifestyle changes. You will feel better once you are back on track however, sometimes it needs medical attention too. The frequency of bowel movements varies from person to person.
Some people have bowel movements three times a week while others may have a few times a week. If you stay 3 or more days without releasing your stool, your stool can become harder and it will be more difficult to pass. The food we eat moves slowly through the digestive tract and your colon require more water to absorb it leading to harder feces. Sometimes, the stool passes through the colon much slower causing constipation or your large intestine has a blockage that might lead to constipation. A person with constipation may have feces less than 3 times a week. In other times, constipation might also occur due to a deficiency of water or fiber.
Symptoms of constipation
Bowel movements may vary from person to person. Some have it three times a day while others have it three times a week. However, you might have constipation if you feel the following symptoms:
- Trouble in releasing stool
- Straining when releasing stool
- Releasing less stool than usual
- Lump, dry or hard stool
- Pain and cramping in the abdomen
- Feeling bloated
- A loss of appetite
- Hard or small stools
- A feeling of fullness even after having a bowel movement
- Experiencing a rectal blockage
Causes of constipation
The main function of your colon is to absorb water from residual food when it passes through your digestive system. After this, the colon builds up the stool or waste. The muscles of the colon ultimately push the wastes out through the rectum. If stool stays in the colon for a longer period, it can become harder and tougher causing difficulty to pass. Having a poor diet can cause constipation such as lack of dietary fiber and adequate water. You should add fiber-rich foods and consume plenty of water in your daily routine as it can assist you to soften your stool. The sources of fiber are generally made from plants.
Fiber can come in both soluble and insoluble forms. The soluble fiber can easily be dissolved in water that produces a gel-type material when it passes through the digestive system. Whereas, insoluble fiber retains its structure the same when it passes through the digestive system. Both soluble and insoluble combine with stool, enhancing its weight and size and softening it. This will help your stool to pass from the rectum. In addition to poor diet, other factors may also cause constipation including
- Lack of exercise
- Delaying the impulse to have a bowel movement
- Some medications such as antidepressants, narcotics, and iron pills
- Antacid medicines that have calcium and aluminum
- Eating disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Problems with nerve and muscles in your digestive system
- Colon cancer
- Lifestyle changes
- Overuse of laxatives
- Not going to washroom when necessary
- Colorectal problems
- Neurological conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, etc
- Intestinal blockage
- Conditions related to hormonal function such as uremia, diabetes, hypercalcemia
- Conditions affecting the digestive system such as celiac disease, IBD, and other inflammatory conditions
- Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy
People who consume high fiber-rich foods are less likely to get constipation. As fiber present in the food boosts frequent bowel movements particularly when the person combines it with adequate consumption of water. Foods rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes. In addition, you should avoid low fiber foods that may include cheese, meat, eggs, highly processed foods such as white bread, fast foods such as chips, and other pre-made foods. However, your poor diet and lack of exercise is not the only reason for constipation there can be other risk factors too. These risk factors may include people age 65 older, gender such as women, being newborns and young infants, and pregnancy.
Diagnosis of constipation
Several people treat constipation on their own with lifestyle changes, increasing physical exercise, taking over-the-counter laxatives, and other home remedies. However, laxatives should not be used for more than 2 weeks without consulting a physician because your body can become dependent on them for colon function.
However, you should call your healthcare provider or doctor right away in case you feel sudden constipation with belly pain or cramps. In addition to this, if you find blood in your stool, losing weight, fever, vomiting, severe pain with bowel movements, constipation for more than 2 weeks, or the size and shape of your stool get changed dramatically. Your doctor might ask about your symptoms, medical history, and any medications or underlying condition.
Your healthcare provider may further conduct a physical examination including a rectal exam, and some blood tests to monitor your blood count, electrolytes, and thyroid function. And in severe cases, some additional tests can be required to identify the exact cause of your symptoms. These tests may include Marker study, Anorectal manometry, Barium enema X-ray, and Colonoscopy.
Treatment of constipation
After diagnosis, your healthcare provider will recommend the best treatment. The treatment option may include fiber supplements, stimulants, lubricants, stool softeners, osmotic, and neuromuscular agents, laxatives if your doctor recommends you. If laxatives or other treatment options do not work, your healthcare provider may have to remove the stool surgically or manually. They may also do a CT scan, MRI scan, or X-ray to check if there is any blockage in your colon due to an underlying cause.
The natural remedies to treat constipation include consuming enough fiber, drinking an adequate amount of water, regular exercise, elevating the feet, avoiding holding the stools, avoiding caffeine, adding fruits and vegetables, trying warm liquids especially in the morning, massage, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. You should go for an early diagnosis and treatment if you have severe constipation because ignoring can result in serious complications such as colorectal cancer, rectal bleeding after straining, anal fissure, symptomatic hemorrhoids, fecal impaction, depression, and reduced quality of life.
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