This digestive conditon is characterized by the difficult and infrequent passage of small, hard stools. It is most common in children and elderly people. Constipation is more common in females and a low-fiber diet is a risk factor.
If your stools are small and hard, or if you have to strain to pass them, you are probably constipated. How frequently you pass stools is less important because healthy people have bowel movements at widely different intervals. Usual intervals range from three times a day to three times a week. Most people tend to have a regular excretory routine, and bowels usually function best if they are allowed to follow a consistent pattern. Bouts of constipation are common and usually harmless, but occasionally they may indicate an underlying intestinal disorder. If you develop severe constipation which lasts more than two weeks, especially if it first occurs after the age of 50, or if blood is present in the feces, you need to consult your doctor. Persistent constipation may lead to fecal impaction, in which hard feces remain in the rectum. Liquid feces may leak around the partial obstruction resulting in diarrhea.
What Are The Causes Of Constipaton?
A diet low in fiber and fluids is the most common cause of constipation. Drinking too much alcohol or drinks containing caffeine which may lead to dehydration, can also make feces hard and difficult to pass. Other factors that decrease the frequency of bowel movements include:
- Taking too little exercise and long periods of immobility, as well as several disorders, such as the metabolic condition hypothyroidism, and depression, may also lead to constipation.
- This condition is also associated with disorders of the large intestine such as diverticular disease.
- People recovering from abdominal surgery and people with anal disorders, such as hemorrhoids or an anal fissure may find it painful to defecate and then develop constipation.
- Certain drugs, including some antidepressants and antacids containing aluminium and calcium carbonate may cause constipation.
- Poor toilet training in infants and increasing immobility in elderly people make constipation much more common in these age groups.
- For unknown reasons, constipation is more common in women.
If constipation is associated with your lifestyle, there are several measures you can take to relieve it and prevent recurrance.
- Increase your daily fiber intake. Fiber-rich foods include bran, whole grain bread, whole grain cereals, fruit, leafy green vegetables, beans and dried peas.
- Reduce your intake of refined and processed foods, such as cheese and white bread.
- Increase your daily fluid intake but avoid drinks containing caffeine or alcohol.
- Avoid the persistent use of stimulant laxatives because the colon may be eventually be unable to function without them.
- Do not ignore the urge to defecate. The longer that feces remain in the colon, the dryer and harder they become.
- Try to achieve a regular routine in which you go to the toilet at the same time of day.
If constipation presists despite taking these measures, you should talk to your doctor who is likely to arrange tests to look for an underlying cause. Your doctor will probably first examine your abdomen and check your rectum by inserting a gloved finger. You may be asked for a fecal sample, which will be examined for the presence of blood. If a cause is not found, your large intestine may be examined with a viewing instrument (colonoscopy) or have contrast X-Rays of your intestines to reveal any abnormalities. If your doctor finds an underlying cause, it’s treatment should relieve constipation. If a particular medication seems to be the cause of your medication, your doctor will prescribe an alternative. You may have an enema (colonic irrigation) in which liquid is passed through a tube into the rectum to stimulate bowel movements. This treatment should be followed by a change in diet to include more fiber.