Constipation is a condition wherein the individual is having difficulty passing bowels regularly, or cannot fully pass their tools. This is a very common condition that affects 1 out of 3 children and 1 out of 7 adults. It is more prevalent in women during pregnancy and in older people.
How regular should digestion be?
Our digestive system is extremely efficient. Within only a few hours after eating, it absorbs the nutrients from the food and beverages we had, processes them into our blood, and then prepares to expel the wastes in the form of stools.
The substances will go through six meters of intestines before reaching the colon where water is extracted. After 1-2 days, the rest goes out of the body in stool form.
Digestion cycles differ from person to person. Majority of individuals expel stools roughly three times per day, three times per week. Several factors come into play with digestion, such as daily activity, age, and diet.
However, the crucial thing is to have a “regular” digestion pattern, not straining during bowel movements, and not getting constipated. The longer the waste substances stay in the colon, the harder the stools get since more water is extracted from them.
This then makes them more difficult to expel. Normal stools should neither be unusually soft nor hard.
What are its causes?
Some of the factors that contribute to constipation include the following:
- Individual circumstances
- Other medical conditions such as depression, an underactive thyroid gland, and Parkinson’s disease
- Psychological and emotional problems
- Disregarding your natural urge to go to the restroom and expel your stools, sometimes because you’re at school or work where the restroom is open to the public, and you don’t feel comfortable
- Lack of physical activity
- Not enough water or fluid intake
- Not enough fiber consumption
- Intake of certain medications, such as blood pressure medications, iron supplements, and painkillers such as codeine
- Giving formula milk for babies can make them constipated
- Routine changes, particularly during holidays, or after the holidays when school is about to resume
- Busy lifestyles
What are its symptoms?
The following are some of the common symptoms of constipation:
- Loose and almost diarrhea-like stools leaking in between regular stools
- Traces of blood in bowels resulting from anal fissures, hemorrhoids, and hard stools
- Stomach aches that are alleviated when you pass stools
- The absence of any bowel movement in at least three consecutive days
- Straining during bowel movements
- Dry, hard, and firm stools that are difficult or painful to expel
- Constipation complications
The constipation complications include the following:
- Hemorrhoids resulting from too much straining during bowel movements
- Fecal incontinence, wherein liquid bowels leak
- Fecal impaction, wherein dry, hard bowels accumulate in the rectum (this is more common in elderly people)
How can I prevent it?
The following are some steps that you could take to prevent constipation:
- Expel your stools as soon as you feel the natural urge to expel. Do not ignore it or try to contain it.
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water daily.
- Consume lots of dietary fiber such as grains, fruits, and vegetables.
When should I consult my doctor?
Constipation is not necessarily a serious condition, but some serious conditions can result from it and this is a list of cases you need to get medical attention immediately:
- The pain you feel during bowel movements is extreme
- You experience unintended weight loss.
- You are elderly and you have not passed stools for seven days or more, as this could be a sign of fecal impaction.
- You have been constipated for two to three weeks and experience pain in the abdomen. This could indicate lead poisoning.
- Constipation only began after starting a new supplement or medication.
Bloody stools. While this could be caused by hemorrhoids or anal fissures, blood in stools may also be a sign of bowel cancer.
Constipation is accompanied by pain in the lower abdomen and fever. The stools are also loose or thin. These could be symptoms of diverticulitis or other serious conditions.
How is it treated?
Treating constipation largely involves making changes to your lifestyle, such as the following:
- Engaging in regular physical activity
- Consuming a fiber-rich diet
- Drinking plenty of water and fluids
The use of laxatives could also help to expel bowels but they should not be used regularly. You should not be dependent on laxatives to help you pass stools. It is only for short-term use. Other medical options for treating constipation include:
- Lubiprostone – this is used for treating chronic idiopathic constipation, which is long-term and wherein the cause wasn’t determined.
- Prucalopride – this is used for treating chronic constipation in females.
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