Constipation, the infrequent and difficult passage of stool, occurs when the intestinal contents harden and a person has difficulty or even pain during elimination. This typically occurs when a bowel movement does not occur within three days. Some people believe that a bowel movement is needed everyday to be healthy, however bowel movements vary from person to person.
What are some of the symptoms of constipation?
Constipation actually is a symptom. Like a fever, constipation can be caused by several conditions. These are typically the most common causes:
- Poor Diet
- Imaginary Constipation
- Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome
- Poor Bowel Habits
- Laxative Abuse
- Hormonal Disturbances
- Fissures and Hemorrhoids
- Other Diseases
- Nerve Damage
Older adults are five times more likely than younger adults to report issues with constipation. Poor diet, insufficient intake of fluids, lack of exercise, use of certain drugs to treat other conditions, and poor bowel habits can cause constipation. Older people sometimes cut back on fluids, especially if they do not eat regular or balanced meals. Water and other fluids add bulk to stools, making bowel movements softer and easier to pass. A preoccupation with bowel movements can cause some older people to depend heavily on laxatives, which can be habit forming. The bowel begins to rely on laxatives to bring bowel movements and over time natural mechanisms for excretion fail without the help of drugs.
What Diagnostic Tests Can Help Determine the Cause of Constipation?
In addition to a routine blood, urine and stool test, a doctor can use a sigmoidoscopy to help detect problems in the rectum and lower colon. This procedure involves a doctor inserting a flexible, lighted instrument through the anus to examine the rectum and lower intestine. The doctor may also perform a colonoscopy to see if the constipation is caused by other issues. A barium enema X-ray may also be performed.
What is the Treatment for Constipation?
It is important to observe normal bowel movement habits in order to determine if you have an irregularity or if you are suffering from frequent constipation. For most people, dietary and lifestyle improvements are all that are needed to lessen the chances of constipation. Eating a well-balanced diet that includes fiber-rich foods and drinking plenty of fluids can stimulate intestinal activity. Special exercises may be necessary to tone up abdominal muscles after pregnancy or whenever abdominal muscles lax.
To prevent constipation, follow these tips:
- Know what is normal and do not rely unnecessarily on laxatives.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes unprocessed bran, whole-wheat grains, fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Exercise regularly.
- Set aside time after breakfast or dinner for undisturbed visits to the toilet.
- Don’t ignore the urge to defecate.
- Whenever there is a significant or prolonged change in bowel habits, check with your doctor