Constipation

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Overview

Having fewer than three bowel movements a week is, technically, the definition of constipation. However, how often you “go” varies widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements several times a day while others have them only one to two times a week. Whatever your bowel movement pattern is, it’s unique and normal for you – as long as you don’t stray too far from your pattern.


Regardless of your bowel pattern, one fact is certain: the longer you go before you “go,” the more difficult it becomes for stool/poop to pass. Other key features that usually define constipation include:


Your stools are dry and hard.

Your bowel movement is painful and stools are difficult to pass.

You have a feeling that you have not fully emptied your bowels.

Symptoms

You have fewer than three bowel movements a week.

Your stools are dry, hard and/or lumpy.

Your stools are difficult or painful to pass.

You have a stomach ache or cramps.

You feel bloated and nauseous.

You feel that you haven't completely emptied your bowels after a movement.

Causes

Constipation is caused by excess water absorption in the colon (also known as the large intestine). As food moves through the colon, water is absorbed and stool is formed. If food moves too slowly through the colon, too much water will be absorbed, resulting in hard, dry stool. Constipation can be caused by a number of different factors including:


Constipation and Diet

Constipation may be caused by dietary factors including:


Not enough fiber in diet

Not enough liquid in diet

Lifestyle Habits and Constipation

Certain habits or changes in your life may cause constipation:


Travel

Pregnancy

Old age

Lack of exercise

Medical Factors Causing Constipation

Medications and other conditions may cause constipation:


Use of certain medications (pain killers, iron pills, narcotics, antidepressants)

Abuse of laxatives

Irritable bowel disease

Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement

Parkinson's Disease

Multiple sclerosis

Risk factors

Being an older adult.

Being a woman.

Being dehydrated.

Eating a diet that's low in fiber.

Getting little or no physical activity.

Taking certain medications, including sedatives, opioid pain medications, some antidepressants or medications to lower blood pressure.

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Complications

The most common complications associated with constipation are discomfort and irritation that can lead to:


Hemorrhoids

Rectal bleeding

Anal fissures (tears in skin around the anus)

Sometimes, the difficulty passing a bowel movement can cause more serious complications, such as:


Rectal prolapse (the large intestine detaches inside the body and pushes out of the rectum)

Fecal impaction (hard, dry stool is stuck in the body and unable to be expelled naturally)

Managing Complications of Constipation

If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from rectal prolapse or fecal impaction, it is important to see a doctor. Both rectal prolapse and fecal impaction can have serious side effects and require intervention from a medical profession

Prevention

The following can help you avoid developing chronic constipation.


Include plenty of high-fiber foods in your diet, including beans, vegetables, fruits, whole grain cereals and bran.

Eat fewer foods with low amounts of fiber such as processed foods, and dairy and meat products.

Drink plenty of fluids.

Stay as active as possible and try to get regular exercise.

Try to manage stress.

Don't ignore the urge to pass stool.

Try to create a regular schedule for bowel movements, especially after a meal.

Make sure children who begin to eat solid foods get plenty of fiber in their diets.