A Simple Guide to Understanding Constipation
Constipation is a very common complaint that most people face quite regularly. By a simple definition, constipation is an irregular and infrequent condition of the digestive system, where a person experiences hard feces that are difficult and painful to pass. It varies greatly from person to person as bowel movements differ for every person. Bowel movement frequencies are different from person to person too. It is okay if there are no bowel movements for a whole day. Once in two to three days is also considered healthy.
Constipation - Signs and Symptoms
The following are some of the commonest signs and symptoms of constipation:-
- Problems in passing stools.
- Passing hard stools, with a frequency of less than three times a week.
- Need to strain frequently during bowel movements.
- Feeling of abdominal bloating and discomfort.
- Noticing blood in stool, or stools that are dark brown in color (this is due to bloody residues in the stools).
Constipation - Causes
There are many factors and indications that can cause constipation. They range from the food people eat to the environmental and climatic conditions of living. Lifestyle is considered quite important too. The following is a list of some of the causes of constipation.
- Inadequate intake of fluids
- Very low fiber diet
- Not exercising adequately
- Intake of drugs rich in iron, aluminum and calcium
- Improper chewing of food
- During paralysis or slowed transit, where action is diminished or absent so that feces are not moved along the alimentary canal
- Severe illness
- Use of laxative quite frequently
Constipation - Diagnostic Approaches
The diagnosis of constipation usually depends on the patient's medical history and physical examination. Doctors advise the patient to undergo some of the following tests:
- Stool test : Doctors request the patient for a stool sample and then analyze the presence of hidden blood residues in the stools.
- Barium Enema test : In this test the lining of the patient's bowel is coated with barium so that during an X-ray analysis, the rectum, colon and small intestine can be clearly seen.
- Use of Endoscope : Doctors examine the interior parts of colon and rectum with the help of endoscope. This is done in more critical cases.
- Anorectic Manometer : The anorectic manometer is inserted through the anus and rectum to measure the coordination of muscles needed to move the bowel. This test is done only if doctors suspect the patient to be suffering from a pelvic floor dysfunction.
Constipation - Treatment
Constipation has various causes. The diagnosis is done from the patient's description of the signs and symptoms. Inquiring about the dietary habits may reveal insufficient intake of fiber rich food, inadequate amount of intake of fluids. So the patient is advised to increase the intake of fluids and fiber rich foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole meal bread, cereals, dried fruits and legumes, etc. the patient is often advised to limit the intake of fat and sugar rich food such as ice creams, cheese, processed foods, etc. The patient is also advised to engage in physical exercise such as jogging, walking, biking, and swimming. The patient is asked not to delay going to toilet once felt urged otherwise the water from the stool is absorbed and the stool becomes harder. Use of laxative is avoided. Habitual use of laxative can damage one's bowels and make constipation worse.
Constipation - Prevention
It is rightly said that prevention is always better than cure. This definitely applies in the case of constipation. It can be prevented by keeping the lifestyle healthy, with respect to dietary habits, proper physical activity, mental stability and addictions. The following steps are good preventive measures for constipation:-
- Proper intake of water and other fluids such as soups, juices, etc.
- Adequate intake of fiber rich foods
- Regular physical exercise
- Not controlling bowel urges excessively
- Using laxatives only when really required
- Set time for bowel movement