Constipation Symptoms & Treatment
Constipation is a condition characterized by a change and decrease in bowel movements. You may have this condition if you have fewer than three bowel movements a week or stool that is hard, small, dry, and hard to pass.
While constipation can be very uncomfortable, it is rarely associated with a serious medical condition.
A number of factors can cause constipation, including:
- Diets that are low in fiber
- Physical inactivity
- Older age
- Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement or holding a bowel movement
- Certain medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal obstruction, pregnancy, hypothyroidism, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, gastrointestinal tumors, and neurological disorders
- Certain medications including antacids, diuretics, narcotics, calcium channel blockers, iron supplements, and more
The most common symptoms include:
- Infrequent bowel movements (less than 3 a week)
- Difficulty starting a bowel movement
- Pain while passing stool
- Abdominal pain or bloating
Chronic constipation can cause hemorrhoids or rectal prolapse, a condition that occurs when part of the intestinal lining comes out through the rectum.
Your doctor can diagnose constipation by reviewing your medical history and asking you questions about your bowel movements, duration of your symptoms, your diet and physical activity, and any medicines you take.
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and test your stools and blood. Your thyroid functioning may also be assessed, as hypothyroidism can contribute to constipation.
Other tests may include an X-ray of your abdomen, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, lower GI series (barium X-rays of your large intestine), colorectal transit studies, or anorectal function tests.
Your doctor will first treat any underlying medical condition that is contributing to your constipation. To treat constipation, your doctor will recommend changing your diet and lifestyle. You should eat more fiber, fruits, and vegetables and drink water throughout the day. You should exercise every day and go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the need to have a bowel movement. For many, simply making these few changes in diet and habits will break chronic constipation. However, some just do not feel relief and their chronic constipation becomes a daily problem. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter laxative or, if you have irritable bowel syndrome, order a prescription medication.
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