Constipation: Facts About Symptoms and Treatments

Picture of Constipation

What is Constipation?

Being constipated means your bowel movements are difficult or happen less often than normal. Almost everyone has it at some point in life, and it’s usually not serious. Still, 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 one is usually too long. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and tougher to pass.

Facts about Constipation

  • Constipation is defined medically as fewer than three stools per week and severe constipation as less than one stool per week.
  • Some of the symptoms of constipation include
  • lower abdominal discomfort,
  • infrequent bowel movements,
  • straining to have a bowel movement,
  • hard or small stools,
  • rectal bleeding and/or anal fissures caused by hard stools, and
  • physiological distress and/or obsession with having bowel movements.
  • Constipation usually is caused by the slow movement of stool through the colon.
  • The two disorders limited to the colon that cause constipation are colonic ine
  • There are many causes of constipation including medications, poor bowel habits, low fiber diets, possibly abuse of laxatives, hormonal disorders, and diseases primarily of other parts of the body that also affect the colon.
  • rtia and pelvic floor dysfunction.
  • High levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy may cause constipation.
  • Medical evaluation of constipation should be done when constipation is of sudden onset, severe, worsening, associated with other worrisome symptoms such as loss of weight, or is not responding to simple, safe and effective treatments.
  • Medical evaluation of constipation may include a history, physical examination, blood tests, abdominal X-rays, barium enema, colonic transit studies, defecography, anorectal motility studies, and colonic motility studies.
  • The goal of therapy for constipation is one bowel movement every two to three days without straining.
  • Treatment of constipation may include dietary fiber, non-stimulant laxatives, stimulant laxatives, enemas, suppositories, biofeedbacktraining, prescription medications, and surgery.
  • Stimulant laxatives, including herbal laxatives, should be used as a last resort because they may permanently damage the colon and worsen constipation.

Chronic constipation is often cured by natural remedies: A diet with natural fiber from fruits and vegetables, at least eight cups of water a day, and exercise plus maybe an occasional laxative from the drug store. But if natural remedies and over-the-counter laxatives such as Metamucil, Citrucel, Colace, and Milk of Magnesia don’t help, it may be time to ask your doctor about prescription drugs.

Constipation (also known as costiveness or dyschezia) refers to bowel movements that are infrequent or hard to pass.

Symptoms of Chronic Constipation

Signs and symptoms of chronic constipation include:

  • Passing fewer than three stools a week
  • Having lumpy or hard stools
  • Straining to have bowel movements
  • Feeling as though there’s a blockage in your rectum that prevents bowel movements
  • Feeling as though you can’t completely empty the stool from your rectum
  • Needing help to empty your rectum, such as using your hands to press on your abdomen and using a finger to remove stool from your rectum

Constipation may be considered chronic if you’ve experienced two or more of these symptoms for the last three months.

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)
  • Pregnancy
  • 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)
  •  Stress
  • Under active thyroid (hypothyroidism)

Treatment of Chronic Constipation

  • Amitiza (lubiprostone). Amitiza, is approved by the FDA for the treatment of chronic constipation from an unknown cause (not constipation due to another condition or treatment). Amitiza softens the stool by increasing its water content, so the stool can pass easily. This medication is taken twice daily with food. Some reported side effects of Amitiza include headache, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
  • Linzess (linaclotide) . This drug is a capsule taken once daily on an empty stomach, at least 30 minutes before the first meal of the day. Linzess helps relieve constipation by helping bowel movements occur more often. It is not approved for use in those 17 years of age and younger. The most common side effect of Linzess is diarrhea.
  • Cephula, Chronulac, Constulose, Duphalac, Enulose, (lactulose). Lactulose, a prescription laxative with a variety of brand names, draws water into the bowel to soften and loosen the stool. Side effects include gas, diarrhea, upset stomach, and stomach cramps.
  • Miralax, Glycolax (polyethylene glycol). This drug is an osmotic laxative and causes water to remain in the stool, which results in softer stools. For those patients who do not tolerate dietary fiber supplements, this medication may be recommended.

While many people believe that a “magic pill” will solve their chronic constipation, drugs alone are not the answer to ending constipation. Along with taking the prescribed medication or laxative, it’s important that you work alongside your doctor to adopt some healthy lifestyle habits that are necessary to resolving constipation:

  1. Go to the bathroom at the same time each morning. Make this your morning “habit,” as colonic motor activity is highest at this time.
  2. Don’t ignore the urge to go. Peristalsis of the bowel  the movements that trigger a bowel movement come and go. If you ignore this urge, you may lose the opportunity.
  3. Go to the bathroom after meals. The urge to defecate increases after mealtime, so take advantage of your body’s signals.
  4. Try to chill. Stress can interfere with relaxation of the whole body, including the bowels. It’s important to use some type of relaxation technique like meditation, guided imagery, or yoga daily.
  5. Drink at least 8 cups of water daily. This helps keep your GI tract healthy.
  6. Add wheat bran to your diet. Wheat bran adds bulk to the stool and helps speed the rate of movement through the gut.
  7. Aim for at least 4 ½ cups of fiber-filled fruits and vegetables each day, including apples, oranges, broccoli, berries, pears, figs, carrots, and beans.
  8. Exercise daily. Being physically active also helps the GI tract function optimally.

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