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Constipation - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Constipation is a condition with fewer than three bowel movements in a week.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At December 7, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 6, 2024

Introduction

Constipation is when a person has less than three bowel movements in a week with hard, dry, and lumpy stools. The person faces difficulty passing the stool and feels that only some have passed. However, constipation is not a disease; it is a normal disorder that can be an underlying symptom of other diseases. The duration of constipation may vary from one person to another depending on the process of digestion, food intake, or the disease behind it. It is a common condition that can affect any age group or population.

What Are the Causes of Constipation?

Constipation can have more than one cause at a time.

The causes of constipation include:

  • Delayed movement of stool through the colon is due to slow peristalsis. This can be due to any muscle that delays the muscle movements of the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Consumption of antacids, which contain calcium and aluminum.

  • Anticholinergics, which are used to treat the conditions of muscle spasms in the intestine, or antispasmodic drugs, may cause constipation.

  • Medications used to treat Parkinson's disease can also cause constipation. Parkinson's is a condition in which movement is altered due to the inability of nerve cells in the brain to produce a chemical called dopamine.

  • Calcium channel blockers prevent calcium from entering the heart's blood vessels and muscle cells, thus relaxing the blood vessels.

  • Iron supplements, in cases of vitamin or iron deficiency, can also cause constipation.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur in the abdomen, including constipation and abdominal pain.

  • Pelvic floor disorders are conditions in which the pelvic muscles or connective tissues get weak or injured, leading to delayed stool movement in the colon, thus causing constipation.

  • Some antidepressants used to treat anxiety and depression can also cause constipation.

What Are the Daily Routine Changes Which Can Lead to Constipation?

The change in bowel movement can occur in a few conditions, such as:

  • Traveling from one place to another can lead to constipation as an adaptation issue.

  • Need for more intake of fluids and water.

  • In pregnancy, digestion can be altered, leading to constipation.

  • Old age and constipation are very much related to each other.

  • Changes in some medicines or consumption of antibiotics to treat some bacterial infections.

  • Consumption of fewer fibers in the diet can create slow bowel movements.

  • Inadequate physical activity and exercise can also lead to constipation or delayed bowel movements.

  • Hypothyroidism is a condition in which thyroid hormone is deficient. One of the symptoms of the condition is constipation.

  • Inflammation is due to inflammatory conditions such as diverticulitis and proctitis.

  • Celiac disease is when the body is intolerant to gluten, leading to constipation and other digestive issues.

What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?

The Mild Symptoms of Constipation Include:

  • Less than three bowel movements in a week.

  • Difficulty passing out stools, which can be painful in some cases.

  • Hard, lumpy, and dry stools with a strong, foul smell.

  • An unsatisfactory feeling of stool not passing completely from the rectum.

  • Sometimes bleeding from the anal lining is due to tough and dry stool.

Some of the Severe Symptoms of Constipation Are:

  • Bleeding from the rectum frequently occurs during bowel movements.

  • Constant and prolonged pain in the abdomen.

  • Fever and pain in the back side of the abdomen.

  • Sudden weight loss and loss of appetite.

How to Diagnose Constipation?

  • Medical and Family History: The history of any surgery in the gastrointestinal tract or anemia can be significant in diagnosing constipation. The periods of bowel movement and the details about the color and texture of stool are important to understanding the cause of constipation.

  • Physical Examination: It involves palpation of the abdomen to check for any tenderness or swelling, listening to the sounds of the abdomen with the help of a stethoscope, and checking for chances of dehydration. It also includes a rectal examination to check for any infection or bleeding.

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests are suggested to investigate anemia, celiac disease, or conditions like hypothyroidism.

  • Stool Tests: Stool tests help to find traces of blood or other infectious microorganisms that can cause constipation.

  • Urine Tests: Urine tests to evaluate diseases such as diabetes.

  • Endoscopy: The doctor performs an endoscopy to look for any problems in the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Colonoscopy: A tube with a camera is inserted in the colon to look for any deformities in the large intestine.

  • Imaging Tests: Imaging tests include magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, and lower gastrointestinal series.

What Is the Treatment for Constipation?

The treatment for constipation includes the following factors:

  • In cases of constipation, it is important to include lots of fiber in the diet. The fibrous foods are vegetables and fruits, which act as laxatives and improve bowel movement. Consuming lots of water and fluids in the diet also improves bowel movements.

  • Physical activities and exercises are also necessary for a good and regular bowel movement.

  • The doctor may advise having a specific bowel movement time that should be followed daily. Sometimes, a bowel movement every day after breakfast can be tried as the food intake stimulates the colon to pass feces to the rectum.

  • Prevent the consumption of some medicines or healthcare supplements that can cause constipation.

  • The doctor can also advise using laxatives in cases of severe constipation, but always for a short duration, as it can lead to diarrhea.

  • Several stimulants or stool softeners can be advised to cure constipation.

  • The doctor may advise medicines such as Lubiprostone, which helps increase body fluid, makes the stool softer, and reduces abdominal pain. Healthcare professionals can recommend biofeedback therapy to change musculature movements in cases of constipation due to weak muscles of the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Surgery is advised in cases of rectal prolapse where there can be a blockage in the path of stool.

How Can Constipation Be Treated at Home?

Some ways by which constipation can be treated at home are

  • Intake of more water in a day.

  • Caffeinated drinks and alcohol should be avoided, which can cause dehydration.

  • Fried foods and refined carbs like bread, potatoes, and pasta should be avoided.

  • More fruits, vegetables, and fiber-rich food intake can help manage constipation.

  • Fruits like oranges, avocados, pineapples, berries, mango, and papaya can be consumed.

  • Regular exercise.

  • The way a person sits in the toilet. Leaning back and raising the feet can make the person poop easier.

  • Fiber supplements can be included in the diet.

  • The urge to use the restroom should be avoided.

Can Constipation Result in Back Aches?

In cases of constipation, there will be a buildup of stools in the intestine, resulting in lower back pain or mild aching pain in parts of the body. This form of lower back pain subsides once the bowel movements become normal. Fecal impaction can also be a reason for lower back pain.

How Is Stress Related to Constipation?

Stress can cause constipation in many ways; the hormones released due to stress directly impact the bowel movement. In a state of stress, people tend to have an imbalanced diet, consume very little water, and perform less exercise, which can result in constipation.

Conclusion:

Constipation is a common phenomenon that sometimes affects almost every human being. However, if the situation persists, it can cause severe issues and infection. So, the treatment of constipation is important. The symptoms of constipation include hard, dry stools and difficulty in bowel movements.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Does the Body Feel in Constipation?

Constipation is characterized by the painful and delayed movement of stools from the digestive tract. A constipated person experiences the following:
- Pain or straining on bowel movements.
- Lumpy or hard stools.
- Blockage in the rectum.
- The person feels that he cannot completely pass stools through the rectum.

2.

What Are Some of the Different Types of Constipation?

Constipation is a medical terminology for painful or difficult bowel movements. The two types of constipation are described below:
- Primary Constipation - It implies that constipation is the major problem and is not the symptom of underlying medical diseases. The other types of primary constipation include the following
- Outlet constipation.
- Slow transit constipation.
- Normal transit constipation.
- Secondary Constipation - It occurs due to underlying medical conditions.

3.

When Can Constipation Turn Serious?

 
Constipation is not a medical emergency or a life-threatening condition. However, the patient might need to visit the emergency room if he did not have bowel movements for prolonged periods. In addition, the condition can turn serious if constipation symptoms are accompanied by bloating or severe abdominal pain.

4.

Which Medications Act Fast Against Constipation?

Stimulant laxatives have proven effective in providing fast relief against constipation. Bisacodyl is one of the most commonly used stimulant laxatives that elevates the fluid and salt levels in the intestines. As a result, bowel movements occur within 15 to 60 minutes.

5.

What Happens if Constipation Is Left Untreated for Prolonged Periods?

People with constipation rarely experience any complications in the long run. However, if left untreated for prolonged periods, constipation symptoms can worsen, resulting in piles or hemorrhoids, blockage of the rectum due to the presence of hard stools, and bowel incontinence or leakage of watery stools.

6.

When Should a Person Consult the Doctor for Constipation?

A person need not be worried about the occasional episodes of constipation. However, the patient must consult the doctor under the following circumstances:
- Presence of blood in stools.
- Abdominal pain, vomiting, or nausea.
- Family history or colorectal cancer.
- The person has been constipated for more than three weeks.

7.

What Are the Ten Most Common Food Items That Can Cause Constipation?

Several food items can worsen or ease the symptoms of constipation. Hence, a constipated person must avoid the following foods:
- Unripe bananas.
- Caffeine.
- Chewing gums.
- Processed grains.
- Alcohol.
- Gluten-containing foods.
- Dairy products.
- Red meat.
- Fried or fast foods.
- Eggs.

8.

How Should a Constipated Person Sleep?

A constipated patient must rest a firm pillow between the knees and the other pillow to support the spine. People who sleep on their left side get relieved of constipation symptoms easily. This is because gravity allows the passage of waste from the ascending to the transverse colon and finally to the descending colon. Finally, one has easy bowel movements in the morning.

9.

Can Constipation Make a Person Sick?

Constipation can make a person sick if left unattended for a long. It results in the buildup of stools in the intestine and food in the stomach. As a result, the equilibrium of gut bacteria gets disturbed, resulting in nausea, vomiting, bloating, or abdominal pain.

10.

Can Warm Water Relieve Constipation Symptoms?

Drinking plenty of water or staying hydrated is one of the best measures to get rid of constipation. Warm water provides an additional benefit because it helps in the breakdown of food, stimulates bowel movements, and reduces the risk of pain and straining during bowel movements.

11.

Can Bed Rest Cure Constipation?

The most significant fact to be noted is that bed rest does not cure constipation. Rather it increases the risk of constipation because people who stay in bed for long have reduced bowel movements. Immobility or bed rest reduces colon contractions resulting in delayed bowel movements.
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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