What is constipation?
Constipation is the condition where an individual has hard faeces which are difficult to expel from the body. Constipation mostly happens because too much water is absorbed from the food while it is in the colon. When a high quantity of water is absorbed, the stool becomes hard and dry, in turn making it difficult for the individual to pass it. The longer it takes the food to pass through the digestive tract, the harder it becomes.
Medically, constipation is defined as lesser than three stools a week, and most severe constipation is passing less than one stool per week.
Constipation means different things to different people. To some, it means infrequent passing of stools, and to some, it means having hard stools and facing difficulty passing them. The cause for each symptom is different so the approach to treat constipation should be different according to the patient. Lifestyle changes can help treat some of the cases of constipation. Laxatives should be used as the last resort to relieve constipation.
The number of bowel movements an individual has per day decreases with age. It is considered normal for adults to have anywhere between 3 to 21 bowel movements a week. The most common pattern is one movement per day, but this is seen in less than 50% of the individuals. Most people have irregular bowel movements, i.e., no bowel movement every day or not having the same number of bowel movements every day.
There is no medical reason to believe that it is crucial for an individual to have at least one bowel movement a day. Going without a bowel movement for a couple of days doesn’t cause any physical discomfort but only mental distress to some people.
However, it is important to distinguish acute constipation from chronic constipation. Acute (recent onset) constipation requires urgent assessment as constipation could have been caused due to some serious illness like the tumour of the colon. It needs even more attention if constipation is accompanied by symptoms like abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting, rectal bleeding and involuntary loss of weight.
Causes of constipation
The primary cause of constipation is when the colon absorbs too much water from the water. This happens when the muscles of colon contract poorly, making the food to move slowly in the colon and losing more water. Some of the most common causes of constipation are as follows:
1. Lack of fibre in the diet
Fibre promotes bowel movements and avoids constipation. Therefore, it is very crucial to include fibre rich food such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the diet.
2. Physical inactivity
Constipation can occur if someone becomes physically inactive. Physically active people are much less likely to become constipated than inactive people.
Medicines which are known to cause constipation include narcotic pain drugs, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, calcium channel blocking drugs, aluminium containing antacids, etc.
Some people get constipated when they consume milk and dairy products.
Pregnancy leads to hormonal changes that can make a woman more prone to constipation. Also, during pregnancy the uterus compresses the intestine, slowing down the passage of food.
6. Not going to the toilet when needed
If an individual ignores the need to use a toilet, the urge goes away until the person no longer feels the need to go. The longer it is delayed, the drier and harder the stool will become.
7. Not drinking enough water
Drinking more liquids might not relieve constipation if it is already there, however drinking water on a regular basis can reduce the risk of constipation. Having sodas and drinks that contain caffeine can cause dehydration and worsen constipation.
Symptoms of Constipation
- Symptoms of constipation include the following:
- Lower abdominal discomfort
- A sense of incomplete evacuation
- Straining to have a bowel movement
- Hard or small stools
- Rectal bleeding
- Physiological distress
Treatment of constipation
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