Conditions

Constipation

Constipation is a common condition that is characterized by having extremely infrequent bowel movements or having great difficulty passing stools. Patients who have three or fewer bowel movements in a week are considered constipated, but this can vary from person to person. While constipation happens to most people from time to time, chronic constipation can cause a great deal of discomfort, and even interfere with daily life, due to the strain it can cause and multiple complications that it can lead to.

Symptoms of constipation vary, but if patients experience two or more of the following for a week, they have constipation. If any of these symptoms persist for three months or longer, they are experiencing chronic constipation:

  • Bowel movements fewer than three times in one week
  • Hard and lumpy stool
  • Straining during bowel movements
  • A sensation that something is blocking the rectum
  • A sensation that the rectum is never fully emptied of stool
  • The patient is “helping” to empty the rectum. For example, they are pressing on their abdomen during bowel movements

There are a variety of factors that can cause constipation, many of which are related to problems in the digestive tract; however, it can also be triggered by lifestyle or dietary changes:

  • Diet changes, such as a large intake of dairy, or insufficient fiber
  • Stress
  • A side effect of medications
  • Eating disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Issues with muscles in the digestive tract
  • Issues with nerves in rectum or colon
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease, or Multiple Sclerosis
  • An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Blockages in the rectum, due to things like anal fissures, colon cancer, or bowel obstruction

Treatment for mild constipation is mostly dietary, including keeping hydrated and making a conscious effort to eat more fiber. If symptoms last for three or more months, it is likely severe or chronic constipation and warrants an appointment with a physician.

Depending on severity and cause, treatment will likely involve a simple laxative medication. If caused by a blockage in the rectum, treatment may be more complicated, and can even require surgery to correct the issue. However, this is far less common than other treatment options.

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