Constipation is considered to be a common complaint of people in almost every country of the world. Constipation is most common in the people from United States. Constipation is more of a symptom than a disease. Constipation can occur in people of almost all ages. Constipation is more common in adults who fall in the age group older than 65 years. This increase in the level of constipation in adults is mainly due to the alteration in their diet pattern; decrease in exercise and also because of the effect of medications.
What is Constipation?
Constipation can be defined as the difficulty in the movement of bowels or irregular and infrequent passage of stool. Chronic constipation is the one that lasts for a longer duration of time. Occasional constipation is common in children and adults. But, some people suffer from chronic constipation, which is dangerous for health and can even cost a person’s life if not taken care of. Chronic constipation leads to excessive injuries when passing the stool and can hamper the daily activities of a person.
What are the Symptoms of Constipation?
The major symptoms of constipation include the following:
- Passing less than three stools a week.
- Hard stools.
- Painful bowel movements.
- Blockage feeling in the rectum.
- Unsatisfied feeling after passing stool.
- Removing stool using hand or fingers from the rectum.
- One must make an appointment with the doctor if a continuous change in bowel movement is found.
What are the Various Causes for Constipation?
Identifying the exact cause for constipation is a difficult task. Multiple things contribute to constipation. Some of the various causes which contribute to constipation are:
- Eating less or no fiber, such as fruit, vegetables and cereals.
- Change in eating habits can cause constipation.
- Change in lifestyle can cause constipation.
- Ignoring to pass stool can cause constipation.
- Side effect of medicines can lead to constipation.
- Very low intake of fluids can cause constipation.
- Anxiety or depression can cause constipation.
In children, improper diet and fear of pain when passing stool are the major reasons for constipation. Apart from these generic causes, there are also certain specific causes for constipation and include:
4 Specific Causes of Constipation
Blockage in the Colon or Rectum
Blockage in the colon or rectum leads to stoppage or slow down of the bowel movement resulting in constipation. The major causes for this type of constipation are: anal fissure, bowel obstruction, narrow colon and colon or other forms of cancer like rectal cancer.
Problems with the Nerves Located Around Colon & Rectum
Problems related to nerves can affect the muscles in the colon and rectum. They lead to contraction of nerves and hence the stool cannot pass through intestine and results in constipation. Major reasons for this type of constipation are: Parkinson’s disease, autonomic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, stroke and injury to spinal cord.
Difficulty with the Muscles Involved in Elimination
Problems related to pelvic muscles also lead to chronic constipation. The issues related to this are because of the following:
- Inability to relax the muscles in pelvis to allow bowel movement and thus resulting in constipation.
- Uncoordinated relaxation and contraction of pelvic muscles and causing constipation.
- Weak pelvic muscles can cause constipation.
Hormonal Conditions Causing Constipation
Hormones help to maintain the fluid balance in the body. Many diseases which occur due to hormonal imbalance lead to constipation and these include: diabetes, hyperparathyroidism (overactive parathyroid gland), pregnancy and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland).
Diagnosis of Constipation
Tests and procedures used to diagnose chronic constipation include:
Sigmoidoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor inserts a flexible tube into anus to examine rectum and lower part of colon to detect the cause of constipation.
Colonoscopy. It is a diagnostic procedure, which helps the doctor to examine the entire colon with a flexible camera-equipped tube so as to diagnose the cause of constipation.
Anorectal Manometry. The doctor, in this procedure, inserts a flexible tube into the anus and rectum and then inflates a balloon at tip of tube. The device is pulled back by sphincter meter and allows the doctor to measure coordination of muscles for bowel movement.
Defecography. During this procedure, the doctor inserts a barium paste into rectum. This paste is passed as the stool is passed and it shows up on x-rays. This reveals the problems associated with the functioning of muscles which are causing constipation.
What is the Treatment for Constipation?
The treatment for the chronic form of constipation starts with some dietary and lifestyle changes, which help in increasing the rate at which stool moves through the intestines. Treatment for chronic constipation can be broadly classified into 4 sub-heads:
Diet and Lifestyle Changes for Treating Constipation
Some easy lifestyle changes when made help ease out the problem of constipation. The healthy lifestyle changes that should be made are as listed under:
Increase in the intake of fiber: This helps in increasing the stool weight and hence speeds up its way through intestines. Fibre can be added by increasing fruit and vegetable intake.
Exercising. Physical activity helps to speed up the muscle activity in intestines.
Not ignoring the urge to pass stool. Time should be dedicated to passing stool in the bathroom and it should all be done without any feeling of hurry.
Laxatives help to ease out the movement of hard stools. Some laxatives are as follows:
Fiber supplements. They add bulk to stool. Some common ingredients of laxatives are methylcellulose, psyllium, guar gum and calcium polycarbophil.
Stimulants and Osmotics. These laxatives help in the movement of fluids through colon. They include milk of magnesia, lactulose, magnesium citrate, Fleet Enema and polyethylene glycol.
Lubricants. They help the stool to easily move through colon. Mineral oil is an example of lubricant.
Stool Softeners. They provide moisture to the stool by extracting water from the intestines and help ease constipation. Examples include Surfak and Colace.
Surgery for Constipation
Surgery comes into play when other treatments do not work. In this, the colon is removed surgically.
Other Medications and Pelvic Treatment for Constipation
Other medications like Amitiza and Linzess help in drawing water to the intestines in order to speed up the stool movement. Biofeedback training is a training in which the doctor inserts a catheter to measure muscle tension. This device in turn helps and trains the muscles to relax and tighten at the right time during the passage of stool.
Home and Natural Remedies to Relieve Constipation
Some of the highly beneficial home remedies for constipation are as listed under:
Intake of fish oil. Fish oil plays a great role in digestion; and hence helps the stool to pass daily. However, excessive intake of fish oil might cause gas and bloating.
Use of Herbs. Herbal therapy is an oldest form of constipation treatments. It is divided into bulk forming herbal laxatives and stimulant laxatives. Natural bulk forming laxatives include: flaxseed, fenugreek and barley; while stimulants include senna and aloe to relieve constipation.
Taking Food Rich in Probiotics. Probiotics aid digestion and prevent constipation. Probiotics are easily available in Yoghurt.
All these easy home treatments help to relieve the fear of constipation. An intake of a healthy diet rich in fiber, intake of fluids and regular exercise or yoga prevents the problem of constipation.
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