Food is one of the main sources of nutrients in the human body. However, not everything gets absorbed from the food we consume. These insoluble and undigested food turns into fecal material, which the body needs to eliminate. Although the body tries to regularly discard stuff that the body can’t use, a bowel movement may sometimes not be as loose as we want it to be. If that happens, then you might be experiencing constipation. But what does constipation mean?
Constipation or fecal impaction is a digestive problem, which causes difficulty in passing dry and hard stool or infrequent bowel movements. A person is considered to be constipated when he/she is having fewer bowel movements, usually less than three times in a week.
Constipation is normally experienced by everyone every once in a while. However, if you suffer from this digestive condition for several weeks, months, or longer, then you most likely have chronic constipation.
Types of constipation
The following are the three different types of constipation:
- Normal-transit – The stool passes through the colon at a normal rate, but is still difficult to pass.
- Slow-transit – The fecal matter moves at an unusually slow pace in the large intestine. This is normally caused by abnormalities with the (enteric) nerves that control the large intestines.
- Dyssynergic defecation – This happens when there is incoordination between the pelvic floor and the surrounding muscles and nerves around it. Due to the incoordination, the nerves and muscles around the pelvic floor abnormally contract and relax, which results in the difficulty of passing stool.
Signs and Symptoms
To confirm if you suffer from constipation, you must first identify if the following constipation symptoms are present. Symptoms include:
- Hard, dry stools that are difficult pass and are painful as well
- Infrequent bowel movements, usually fewer than 3 times per week
- The need to force oneself during bowel movements
- Feeling or sensation that you haven’t completely empty the stool in your rectum
- The need for manual help to pass the stool either by using the hands to put pressure on the abdomen or using a finger to dislodge the stool in the rectum.
- Stomach ache or abdominal cramps
- Bloated abdomen
If you experience the following constipation symptoms, especially if it’s chronic, immediately consult your doctor to know what’s been causing it and how to treat and prevent it from getting worse.
Causes and Risk Factors
There are different factors that causes constipation, such as:
- Lack of physical activity or exercise
- Dehydration or insufficient water intake
- Frequently ignoring the urge to poop or delaying toilet visit
- Changes in your regular routine such as mealtime and bedtime
- Not consuming enough fiber-rich foods or having a low-fiber diet
- Certain medications that slow down bowel movements such as antidepressants, narcotics, antacids, iron pills, and antihistamines.
Underlying health conditions and illnesses
- Diverticular disease
- Lazy bowel syndrome
- Endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, and hypercalcemia.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Disorders of the nervous system such as autonomic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
- Blockages in the colon or rectum caused by anal fissure, bowel obstruction, bowel stricture, rectocele, colon or rectal, and other abdominal cancers.
Who is at risk of constipation?
Constipation can be considered as one of the most common digestive issues. Almost everybody has had it, and in fact, some people are more susceptible than others. After knowing the constipation symptoms and causes, let us now find out who is at most risk of this condition.
These are the following factors that increase your risk of having constipation:
- Old age. According to studies, constipation is a common worry for older people ages 65 and older. Other health conditions and changes that older people experience are also factors on why they are more at risk of this digestive problem.
- Being a woman. Women are also more vulnerable to constipation than men. This digestive problem may also be experienced by women multiple times during pregnancy, before the start of a menstrual cycle, and after menopause.
- People with poor diet, lack of exercise, and those who are always dehydrated.
Treatment and Prevention
There are various treatments you can do or use to ease and get rid of constipation.
Here are some of them:
Lifestyle and diet changes
Some of the most common constipation symptoms are caused by poor lifestyle and diet choices. And so changing these habits can help solve constipation problems. Here’s what you can do:
- Add more fiber-rich foods to your diet. Fiber helps in reducing the weight and size of your stool and softens it as well, making it easier to pass. Consume more fruits and vegetables and other foods that are rich in fiber to loosen your stool and ease constipation.
- Be physically active. Regular exercise can improve bowel motility, which promotes smooth passage of stool from the colon to the rectum and out.
- Do not delay your trip to the restroom when you have an urge to have a bowel movement. When you feel the urge to defecate, go to the restroom immediately and take your time to empty your bowels. Never ignore the urge as it may cause fecal impaction, which results in constipation.
If changing your diet and lifestyle does not help improve constipation, you can use laxatives instead. Below are laxatives that you can purchase over-the-counter:
- Fiber supplements. Aside from including fruits or vegetables in your diet, you can try taking fiber supplements to improve your bowel movement. Seek the advice of a doctor regarding the best choice for you.
- Enemas and Suppositories. You can treat constipation using an enema or by introducing water into the rectum. The liquid used in an enema, usually water, helps soften the stool, which promotes bowel movement. Glycerin suppositories, on the other hand, works by irritating the intestinal lining, which results in bowel movement.
- Stimulants. This type of laxative, such as bisacodyl, works by causing intestinal muscle contractions that help push out stool.
- Osmotics. Laxatives like osmotics retain water in the stool, which softens and loosens it, which makes it easier to pass. Osmotics such as oral magnesium hydroxide, magnesium citrate, and lactulose polyethylene glycol can help with constipation.
- Lubricants. Mineral oil lubricants ease constipation by lubricating the intestines, which prevents the stool from drying out.
- Stool softener. Docusate sodium and docusate calcium stool softeners help soften the stool making it easier and more comfortable to pass.
If your stool problems can’t be treated by what’s mentioned above, it is best if you consult your doctor immediately. Your doctor might prescribe medications, training, and even surgeries to help treat your condition.
How to prevent constipation
Constipation normally goes away on its own. However, if you continuously do the habits that might further worsen your condition, then it might develop into chronic constipation. Here’s what you can do to prevent chronic constipation from occurring:
- As much as possible, include fiber-rich foods in your diet or take fiber supplements as an alternative. Foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grain cereals, and beans can help with constipation.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water or consuming water-rich foods such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and watermelon.
- Exercise or do any physical activities for about 30 minutes most days of the week.
- Never ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
- Reduce stress by finding ways on how to manage it.
- Have a regular bowel schedule so your body will get used to the process.
Now that you are fully aware of what constipation is, then you are now fully equipped for when it strikes you or the people you know. Always remember to gear towards better and healthier choices to avoid constipation from ensuing or worsening.
Keep in mind that it is best if you consult your doctor for medical advice and prescriptions if you currently suffer from constipation and are having a hard time treating it.
Learn more about Digestive Health and Constipation, here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.