If you have fewer than three bowel movements in a week, and find it difficult or painful to pass one, you may be suffering from constipation. This is a common problem, as about 16% of all adults and 33% of adults over the age of 60 in the United States report having this issue, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Constipation can be caused by a number of factors, and treatments can vary depending on the frequency, cause, and severity of the condition. If you regularly suffer with constipation it may be time to seek the advice of a gastroenterologist to get the relief you need – and to ensure that you address the cause.
Seek immediate emergency medical attention for symptoms of an intestinal blockage, which include a sudden inability to pass gas or stools, severe abdominal pain, and vomiting.
How Does Constipation Happen?
Constipation often results from a lack of water within the stool, making them hard, dry, and uncomfortable to pass. Causes of constipation can include:
- Poor diet
- Infrequent bathroom visits
- Not drinking enough water
- Physical inactivity
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Intestinal obstruction
- Thyroid conditions
- Neurological disorders
- Side effect of certain medications
- Overuse of laxatives
Symptoms of constipation can be very uncomfortable, and can include:
- Infrequent bowel movements (fewer than three per week)
- Difficultly starting a bowel movement
- Pain when passing a stool
- Dry, hard, lumpy, or larger-than-usual stool
- Stomach pain
- Feeling bloated or sick
- Lethargy or a lack of energy
Treatments for Constipation
Dietary and lifestyle changes are often the most effective way to relieve constipation, and these changes can involve the following:
Diet and Exercise
A healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise can help to keep the bowels moving and prevent constipation. Foods that are high in fat, high in refined sugar, processed, or low-fiber can cause constipation and make symptoms worse.
Eating more high-fiber foods can help to keep the bowels moving and make stools softer and easier to pass. Good sources of fiber include grains, vegetables (such as carrots and asparagus), beans, and fresh fruit.
Limit your consumption of foods such as dairy products, processed foods, and fatty red meat, which can lead to constipation or make your symptoms worse. Drinking plenty of water and fruit juices can also help to prevent constipation. Talk to your gastroenterologist about other home-based remedies you can add to your lifestyle in order to help your gastrointestinal (GI) tract to work properly.
Improving Bowel Habits
Strangely enough, holding in bowel movements for too long can be associated with constipation. You should go to the bathroom whenever you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, because holding it in can lead to progressive constipation. This can happen when people are apprehensive about using public restrooms or in children who are resisting toilet training.
Stool softeners and other medications can be effective treatments for constipation, as they help to make the stool easier to pass, prevent straining, and/or help increase gastrointestinal movement. These medicines include various types of stool softeners, laxatives, and prescription medications.
Long-term use of medications to treat constipation should be discussed with your doctor. Certain constipation medicines (particularly over-the-counter laxatives) are not recommended for long-term use, because they can lead to vitamin deficiencies and other health problems.
Digestive Healthcare in Carlisle, PA
Regular constipation, if left untreated, can lead to hemorrhoids, fissures, and rectal prolapse (a condition that occurs when part of the intestinal lining comes out through the rectum). If you routinely suffer from constipation, seek medical advice from Carlisle Digestive Disease Associates. Our experienced gastroenterologists are committed to your digestive health and are experts at diagnosing and treating a broad range of upper and lower GI conditions.