Constipation can affect someone who poos less than three times per week. Constipation can occur for a variety of reasons, including when stool moves too slowly through the colon. The more water the colon absorbs and the harder the stools become, the slower the food passes through the digestive tract. Sometimes, constipation can be caused by a blockage in the large intestine. A person in this situation will require immediate medical assistance. It could also be due to a lack of fiber or water in some cases. In the United States, one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints is constipation. Constipation causes at least 2.5 million people to visit their doctor each year.
Why does constipation happen?
Constipation occurs when your colon absorbs too much water from waste (stool), causing the stool to dry out and become difficult to push out of your body.
To back up a bit, nutrients are absorbed as food passes through the digestive tract. The partially digested food (waste) passes through the small and large intestines, the colon. The colon collects water from the waste, resulting in a solid substance known as stool. Food may travel too slowly through the digestive tract if you have constipation. This allows the colon to absorb water from the waste for an excessive amount of time. As a result, it gets dry, hard, and difficult to push out the stool.
Symptoms of constipation
The major symptoms of constipation are:
- Passing less stool than usual
- Difficulty passing stool
- Lumpy, dry, or hard stool
- A loss of appetite
- Straining when passing stool
Constipation can be caused by various factors, including lifestyle choices, medications, medical conditions, and pregnancy. Some of the common lifestyle causes are:
- Insufficient physical activity.
- Inadequate hydration (dehydration).
- If you are eating foods that are deficient in fiber.
- Consuming excessive amounts of milk or cheese.
- Resisting the urge to urinate.
- Changes to your routine, such as travelling, eating or sleeping at different times.
Medications that can lead to constipation are:
Pain relief drugs like oxycodone and hydromorphone.
Calcium channel blockers include nifedipine and diltiazem.
Tricyclic antidepressants, such as imipramine and amitriptyline.
Diuretics: They include furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide.
Iron supplements: Doctors prescribe these supplements usually to treat iron deficiency anemia.
Medical and health-related conditions that can cause constipation
- Colorectal cancer.
- Diverticular disease.
- Neurologic disorders like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
- Intestinal obstruction.
- Lazy bowel syndrome.
Constipation is uncomfortable on its own, but it is rarely life-threatening. However, it can become a problem if it indicates a more serious underlying issue, such as colorectal cancer, or if it begins to cause further harm. Severe constipation can cause several problems, including:
Hemorrhoids: inflamed and swollen veins in your rectum.
Anal fissure: a small tear around your anus
Fecal impaction: An excess of stool/poop in the rectum and anus.
Diverticulitis: Infection in pouches that can form off the colon wall due to stool becoming stuck and infected.
Consultation for constipation can help avoid complications.
Lab tests and other medical tests
Your physician may order no tests at all or different types of tests and procedures. Your doctor may prescribe for you is determined by your symptoms, medical history, and overall health.
Imaging tests: Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a series of the lower gastrointestinal tract may be ordered to rule out other possible causes of constipation.
Colorectal transit studies: These tests involve ingesting a small dose of a radioactive substance, either in pill form or as part of a meal, and then tracking both the duration of the substance’s stay in your intestines and its movement through them.
Lab tests: Urine and blood tests reveal hypothyroidism, anemia, and diabetes. In addition, stool samples are analyzed for infection, inflammation, and cancer.
A Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy may be performed to obtain an internal view of your colon using a scope. A small sample of tissue (biopsy) may be taken during this procedure to check for cancer or other problems, and any polyps found will be removed.
Medication: your physician will review your medications and supplements (if you take any). Certain of these products may result in constipation. If they do, your doctor may adjust your dose, switch you to another medication, or ask you to discontinue taking the supplement. Never stop taking your medications or supplements without first consulting your doctor.
Surgery: Constipation is rarely treated surgically. However, if a structural problem causes constipation in the colon, your doctor may recommend surgery. A blockage in the colon, a narrowing of a portion of the intestine, an anal fissure, or rectal prolapse. Certain causes of outlet dysfunction that result in constipation may be treated surgically. This is a topic that is best discussed following testing. Additionally, you may require surgery if cancer was discovered in your colon, rectum, or anus.
- Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber-rich foods.
- Keep a food diary and note which foods cause constipation.
- Drinking plenty of water. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
- Avoid reading, using your phone, or using any other device while attempting to move your bowels.
- Do regular physical activity or exercise.
When to see your doctor?
Supplements, home remedies, and some dietary changes may be sufficient to manage hemorrhoids in some people. However, if symptoms do not improve or worsen, consult a physician. Bleeding from the anus, pain or redness, and inflammation in the affected area may also necessitate prompt medical attention.