Constipation

Info on constipation and promoting normal bowel movements.

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  1. What is Constipation?
  2. Diagnosing Constipation
  3. What Causes Constipation?
  4. Help for Constipation
  5. More Information on Constipation

What is Constipation?

Even though constipation is a common problem of the digestive system, for many people it is an embarrassing subject to discuss. The term constipation often means different things to different people ranging from less frequent bowel movements than normal to more difficult passage of stools or a combination of both.

Being constipated can make one feel uncomfortable, bloated, heavy and sluggish. Regular elimination of waste products from the body is vital to maintaining health.

Diagnosing Constipation

The diagnosis of constipation is based upon your symptoms, a physical examination and your medical history. Your doctor may also examine the nervous system and the thyroid gland and check your medications to check that constipation is not a side effect of something else.

Most cases of constipation are either self-diagnosed or diagnosed in your doctor’s office. However, if your health care practitioner feels it is warranted, there are certain special investigations and tests that can be performed for more complicated cases of chronic constipation.

Tests to Diagnose Constipation

  • Stool sample analysis to check for any internal bleeding.
  • Thyroid function test to test for hypothyroidism as constipation is a common symptom of hypothyroidism.
  • A Barium enema is an x-ray test that will be able to clearly reveal the anatomy and contents of your rectum and colon.
  • Sigmoidoscopy is a procedure in which a flexible lighted instrument is inserted through the anus to examine the rectum and lower colon (sigmoid).
  • Colonoscopy is a procedure during which a flexible, camera-equipped tube is used to examine the entire colon.
  • Anorectal manometry is a procedure in which a narrow, flexible tube is inserted into your anus and rectum to determine the underlying cause of the problem and rule out serious conditions associated with constipation such as tumors or polyps.
Symptoms of Constipation

The signs and symptoms of constipation include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Cramps or abdominal pain
  • Experiencing hard, compacted stools that are difficult or painful to pass
  • No bowel movement or the urge to move bowels (over three days for adults or four days for children)

These symptoms may also be present:

  • Flatulence with the inability to pass a stool
  • Headaches
  • Halitosis
  • Coated tongue
  • Pale complexion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and appetite loss
  • Diarrhea

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation can result from a number of factors such as poor diet or lack of fiber, inadequate fluid intake or as the result of certain medications.

Possible Causes of Constipation
  • A diet low in fiber (lacking whole grains, bran, fresh fruit and vegetables)
  • Insufficient intake of liquids such as water, juice or tea
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Poor bowel habits such as ignoring the urge to have bowel movements
  • Stress
  • Medications such as painkillers (especially codeine), antacids, antispasmodic drugs, antidepressants or iron tablets
  • Medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), spinal injury, multiple sclerosis, kidney failure, colon or rectal cancer, too much calcium in the blood, tumors and lesions of the bowel
  • Habitual use of laxatives and enemas (leading to a rebound effect) * Changes in the environment
  • Mature age - older adults often suffer from constipation due to a combination of poor diet, insufficient fluids, poor bowel habits or the side effects of prescription medication
  • Pregnancy - hormonal changes and pressure on the bowel by the heavy womb can cause prolonged constipation which can in turn result in the development of anal fissures or hemorrhoids

Help for Constipation

Various treatments can help to ease the symptoms of constipation and promote a healthy digestive system. Conventional medication and complementary therapy together with a high fiber diet and regular exercise will keep your digestive system regular.

 
  • Acupuncture or shiatsu helps to release blocked energy.
  • Aromatherapy 
  • Massage with essential oils may help chronic constipation.
  • Biofeedback therapy teaches you how to coordinate muscles used to defecate.
Conventional Medicine
  • Over-the-counter stimulant laxatives such as Senokot, Dulco-lax, Fybogel and Regulan cause bowel muscles to contract.
  • Prescription medicine such as polyethylene glycol (Miralax) softens the stool and Tegaserod (Zelnorm) helps the intestinal muscles contract better.

Most cases of constipation can be successfully treated by instituting changes in diet and lifestyle – without the need for OTC or prescription drugs. This is the preferred approach and will lead to continued systemic health. Remember that constipation is a warning sign from your body to let you know that changes need to be made. Do not ignore this.

 

More Information on Constipation

What are the Possible Complications of Constipation?

Most episodes of constipation result from a lack of fiber in the diet, a limited intake of water and reduced physical activity. Complications such as hemorrhoid, a dependency on laxatives, hernia or a prolapse of the womb or rectum may be brought on by chronic constipation.

Hemorrhoids
These are swollen veins around the anal opening that are caused by straining to pass a stool over a long period of time. They are extremely painful and may rupture and bleed. If they are large enough, they will be visible from the outside.

Dependency on Laxatives
People who abuse laxatives over an extended period of time have sluggish bowels.

Hernia
A hernia is the bulging of the abdominal contents through a weak point in the abdominal wall. This is worsened by too much straining when trying to pass hard stools.

A Prolapsed Womb or Rectum
A prolapsed womb or rectum may result from excessive straining and weakness of the muscles in this area.

Constipation in  Children

Constipation is very common in children. Children who are constipated tend to have hard or painful stools or no bowel movement for four days or more and it is commonly due to a diet low in fiber, not drinking enough water, drinking too much milk or holding out to go the bathroom. A child with constipation tends to hold in their movements to avoid the pain which in turn worsens the constipation and so the vicious cycle continues. Severe, untreated chronic constipation can lead to physical problems with the digestive tract and the metabolic systems in the body.

To prevent chronic constipation in children, make sure they have a diet rich in fiber that includes whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables and plenty of water and fruit juice to drink. Of course exercise and physical activity are great preventatives too!

Constipation and Pregnancy

Constipation causes much discomfort during pregnancy and is very common. During pregnancy, the muscles in your intestines are more relaxed causing the slowed passage of stools and constipation. The growing baby also adds pressure on the lower intestines in the last few months of pregnancy. There are other factors that contribute to constipation such as an inadequate diet, certain supplements, hormonal changes, reduced activity and stress. By increasing more fiber and fluids to your diet, and doing gentle exercise you can prevent and treat constipation. If you are battling with severe constipation during pregnancy your doctor may consider reducing your intake of iron but this can only be done under his or her supervision.

How Can I Prevent Constipation?

There are various ways to prevent constipation and they include:

  • Add high fiber foods such as whole grain breads, bran cereal, dried fruit, raisins, fresh fruit and vegetables to your diet.
  • Drink plenty of liquids such as water, fruit juices, hot tea or lemon water to stimulate the bowels.
  • Ginger tea is an effective home remedy for constipation (for babies opt for homeopathic remedies instead of herbal ones).
  • Regular exercise such as walking or swimming everyday can help to both prevent and relieve constipation.
  • Avoid regular use of laxatives or enemas.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, processed and junk food if you are suffering from constipation.
  • Stool softeners taken daily may also prevent constipation.
  • Increase your intake of magnesium by taking supplements or eating foods such as nuts, seeds or green leafy vegetables.
  • Practice regular bowel habits by visiting the toilet for at least ten minutes after breakfast even if you are unable to have a bowel movement. The best time is usually the first hour after breakfast. Done regularly this will help to set up a healthy bowel routine.