Constipation is defined as the infrequent movement of bowel or passage of stool that can persist for more than a week. It is a medical condition when an individual has fewer than three stools per week. Having less than one stool per week indicates severe constipation.
While occasional constipation is quite common, many people experience chronic problems that complicate their daily lives and work schedule. Below are some symptoms that will help you to identify if you have such a problem –
Symptoms of Constipation
The main symptoms include –
- Difficulty in passing stool
- Passing of less stool than usual
- Hard, dry or lumpy stool
- Straining while passing stool
Other associated symptoms may or may not include –
- Loss of appetite
- Cramping or pain in the abdomen
- Acidity and gastric irritation
- Bloated feeling
Consistent constipation is experienced in few cases as follows–
- Older individuals tend to be less active and have less intestinal muscle contractions resulting in lesser bowel motility.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women experience hormonal changes, making them more prone to constipation. The baby in the womb squeezes the intestines, thereby slowing down the passage of stool.
- Persons taking medications for low blood pressure, opioid pain, sedatives, or some antidepressants
- Persons staying dehydrated throughout the day
- People following a low fibre diet
- People suffering from an eating disorder or psychiatric health conditions like depression
Complications of Constipation
Following complications might occur if you are experiencing a prolonged period of irregular and hard bowel movements:
- Hemorrhoids: Swollen and inflamed veins in the rectum.
- Anal Fissures: Torn skin along the lining of the anus caused by passing of hardened stool.
- Faecal Impaction: Accumulation of hardened stool in the intestines due to chronic constipation.
- Urinary Incontinence: Damage to the pelvic floor muscles from straining can lead to leakage of urine from the bladder.
- Diverticulitis: Infection in the pouches along the colon wall, due to the accumulation of stool in the colonic passage.
Treatment of Constipation
The various treatment options include –
Most cases of constipation are cured by taking proper self-care such as consuming more fibre, drinking adequate water, and getting more exercise.
Review of Supplement/Medication
In addition to the self-care techniques, your doctor will need to review the medication or supplements that you are consuming to see if any of these are causing constipation. Your doctor may change the dose, switch to any alternative medicine, or advise you to stop taking that particular medication.
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- Fiber supplements – They absorb water to help form a bulky stool. Make sure to drink lots of water with fiber so it doesn’t block the stools. Common choices include Psyllium, Methylcellulose fiber etc.
- Osmotics – This helps draw water into your large intestine so that your stool is softer. They can cause cramping diarrhoea and nausea. Check with your physician, if you’re an older adult or have heart or kidney failure.
- Stimulants – They cause your intestines to squeeze the stool out. Common ones are bisacodyl and sennosides
- Stool softeners – They’re best for short-term use, like after surgery. They work by pulling in water from your intestines to soften your stool.
- Suppositories – These go directly into your rectum. They typically work by squeezing your intestines for the stool movement. Glycerin and bisacodyl are ideal choices.
- Enemas – Enemas are done to push fluid directly into your rectum. Plain tap water, mineral oil, bisacodyl enemas are commonly used enemas. The fluid softens stool and makes a smoother movement
- Lubricant laxatives – Slippery substances like mineral oil make it easier to move stool through your colon.
- Lactulose is an osmotic substance that draws water into the bowel to soften and loosen the stool. Side effects include gas, diarrhoea, upset stomach, and stomach cramps.
- Linaclotide – It’s used to treat chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) and irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C).
- Lubiprostone- Your doctor may suggest this drug if you have chronic constipation or constipation brought on by opioids.
Your doctor may diagnose your problem and prescribe the drug that best suits your condition.
This treatment option is undertaken if your constipation problem is due to any structural issues in the colon. These include narrowing of a portion of the intestine, blockage in the colon, collapsing a part of the rectum into the vagina, tears in the anus, or cancer in your anus, rectum, or colon.
Simple lifestyle changes and adopting home remedies for constipation can have a cumulative impact on your digestive system and help relieve your constipation. Read on to understand what you can do to ease the symptoms of chronic constipation.
- Include fiber gradually – Slowly add fiber to your diet over a week to ease the stool movement. If you increase the fiber content too quickly, you may feel gassy and bloated.
- Add veggies and grains in your diet – Aim to eat 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables every day. Alongside, include more multigrain cereals, whole wheat crackers, and whole oats in your diet.
- Take laxatives occasionally – Consider taking a laxative once in a while to get things moving.
- Stay well hydrated – Drink more fluids coupled with adding fibre to your diet.
- Follow a proper exercise routine – Make sure you exercise at least 20 minutes for 3 days a week. If you are short on time, break up your daily activity into multiple sessions.
FAQs of Constipation
1. What are the leading causes of constipation?
Constipation causes include –
- Not drinking enough water.
- Not including enough fiber in your diet.
- Engaging in less physical activity.
- Resisting the urge to pass a stool.
- Overuse of laxatives.
- Use of medications such as antidepressants, iron pills, and narcotics.
- Neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- Problems with the nerves and muscles in the digestive system
2. What are the conditions having severe constipation as a symptom?
Chronic constipation could be a symptom of the following conditions –
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Diverticular disease.
- Colorectal cancer
- Outlet dysfunction constipation (a defect in the coordination of pelvic floor muscles that support the organs within the lower abdomen and pelvis to release stool.)
- Neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and stroke
- Lazy bowel syndrome. The colon contracts poorly and retains stool.
- Intestinal obstruction
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Parkinson’s disease in which a part of the brain becomes progressively damaged
- Hypercalcemia or excess calcium in the bloodstream
3. What are the side effects of constipation?
Some of the side effects of constipation include –
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling bloated
- Anal fissures and piles
- Severe pain with bowel movements
- Loss of weight
In such cases, you need to consult a doctor and share all your problems regarding bowel movements so it is treated at the right time.
4. What relieves constipation?
A high Fiber diet helps in the smoother movement of stool through the digestive system to expel them comfortably. This includes bran flakes, popcorn, oatmeal, vegetables, and fruits such as broccoli, carrot, spinach, banana, orange, and apple.
Yoga and physical exercises can also help manage stress and move the digestive system to improve blood flow. Some of the standard yoga poses to help relieve constipation include the supine twist, wind relieving pose, child’s pose, crescent twist, and the matsyasana twist.
5. How does constipation make you feel?
As regular bowel frequency is affected, you may experience various psychiatric and physical problems like mood swings, decreased appetite, feel bloated, abdominal pain, and nausea. If the problem persists, please consult a doctor.