What is Constipation?
Being constipated means your bowel movements are difficult or happen less often than normal. Almost everyone has constipation at some point in life.
Although it’s not usually serious, you'll feel much better when your system is back on track.
The normal length of time between bowel movements varies widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements three times a day. Others have them only once or twice a week.
Going longer than three or more days without a bowel movement, though, is usually too long. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and more difficult to pass.
What Are the Symptoms?
You may have:
- Few bowel movements
- Trouble having a bowel movement (straining)
- Hard or small stools
- A sense that everything didn’t come out
- Swollen abdomen or abdominal pain
Why Does It Happen?
Some causes of constipation include:
- Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
- Changes in your usual diet or activities
- Colon cancer
- Eating a lot of dairy products.
- Eating disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis
- Not being active
- Not enough water or fiber in your diet
- Overuse of laxatives (Over time, this weakens the bowel muscles)
- Problems with the nerves and muscles in the digestive system
- Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, which some people do because of hemorrhoids
- Some medications (especially strong pain drugs such as narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills)
active thyroid (hypothyroidism)
How Do Doctors Diagnose It?
If you have trouble with your bowel movements for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor. He or she may ask for these tests to find the cause of your constipation:
- Blood tests to check on hormone levels
- Barium studies to look for any blockages in your colon
- Colonoscopy to look for blockages in your colon
What Should I Do If I Am Constipated?
Try these steps:
- Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day (unless your doctor told you to limit fluids for another health reason).
- Try warm liquids, especially in the morning.
- Add fruits and vegetables to your diet.
- Eat prunes and bran cereal.
- If needed, use a very mild over-the-counter stool softener like docusate (Peri-Colace) or a laxative like magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia). Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor. Laxative overuse can worsen your symptoms.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor right away if you have sudden constipation with abdominal pain or cramping and you are not able to pass any gas or stool.
Also, call your doctor if:
- Constipation is a new problem for you
- You have blood in your stool
- You are losing weight even though you are not dieting
- You have severe pain with bowel movements
- Your constipation has lasted more than two weeks
- You have pencil thin stools
Can I Prevent Constipation?