Constipation: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Woman in pain lying in bed.

What is Constipation?

If you have constipation, it means that you might not be passing stools frequently, you find it difficult to pass stools or completely empty your bowel or your stools are unusually small or large. Generally, constipation is described as having fewer than 3 bowel movements in 7 days.

Constipation is a condition that a lot of people including babies and children, face at some point in their lives. For some people, constipation is long-term problem that negatively impacts their well-being in significant ways. Constipation can be chronic. Chronic constipation is constipation that lasts for several weeks or months

What is the Cause of Constipation?

Constipation happens when stools move too slowly or stay for too long in the large intestine and the large intestine absorbs excess water from the stools, making them dry and hard. It may be hard to tell what exactly may be responsible for your constipation. However, several factors may contribute to the condition. These factors include:

Sometimes, constipation may be a sign of another condition. Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease may lead to constipation.

What are the Symptoms of Constipation?

woman lying on a sofa, with a water bag on her stomach

Before you can be certain that you have constipation, you must be experiencing difficulty passing stools and the number of your toilet visits within a particular time must have significantly reduced. Each time you visit the toilet, you may have a feeling that there is still more stool to be passed out but you would not be able to completely empty your bowel.

You may also have loss of appetite, stomach ache or cramps or not feel very well if you have constipation. Bloating and frequent tiredness are other symptoms you may also experience.

What are the Risk Factors of Constipation?

Anybody can have constipation, but it occurs more in women than in men. Certain conditions like pregnancy and age increase a person’s risk of constipation. Seniors experience constipation more than younger people.

How is Constipation Treated?

The treatment you receive for constipation depends on how severe your symptoms are, how long you have had it, and the cause of the condition. If constipation is caused by a medication you are using, your doctor may be able to provide an alternative and you should notice a relief in your symptoms once you stop taking the medication.

Constipation can be effectively treated. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Although complications are rare, prolonged constipation can affect your quality of life. Hemorrhoids also known as piles may develop as a complication of constipation.

Bowel incontinence, rectal bleeding and fecal impaction, a condition where hard, dry stool gather in the rectum and rectal prolapse, a condition where part of the large intestine protrudes from the anus, may also occur from constipation. Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you might be able to treat your condition at home. Laxatives are commonly used to treat constipation, but before you use laxatives, be sure that you buy the right one for you.

There are different types of laxatives, many of which you can buy without prescription. Each of these laxatives works differently. Using the wrong laxatives may actually make your symptoms worse. Check with your doctor before you use any kind of laxatives.

Just by making simple changes to your lifestyle and diet, you would see a lot of improvement in your condition. To treat constipation at home, you should do the following:

Exercise regularly

A woman about to run

Exercising regularly would make you less likely to become constipated. You should aim to exercise at least 30 minutes daily on most days of the week. Walking, running, jogging, swimming, as well as yoga are exercises that would provide relief from constipation. Besides helping to treat constipation, exercise would also improve your general well-being in significant ways. As much as you exercise, avoid sitting for prolonged periods.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty water daily to avoid dehydration and increase the amount you take when the weather is hot and during exercise. Starting your day with a glass or two of warm water may also help to facilitate bowel movement. Alcohol is not healthy for you and it should never be a substitute for water. Consume caffeinated drinks including coffee, black tea, green tea and soft drinks in moderation. Caffeinated drinks cause dehydration.

Eat Foods Rich in Fibre

Fibre helps the food you eat pass more easily through your digestive system. There are two types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre helps to keep your stools soft while insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool. Both types of fibre work to ensure easy and regular bowel movements.

If you have not been including enough fibre in your diet, it is important that you gradually increase your intake of these foods to prevent bloating, stomach cramps and flatulence. Foods like carrot, raspberries, strawberries, apples, bananas, oranges, potatoes, beets, broccoli, artichokes, walnuts, collard greens, rhubarb, peaches, grapes, papaya, plums, raisins, apricots, whole grain breads, brown rice and oats are rich in fibre and they will make you feel full for longer periods.

Reduce your Intake of Dairy Products

Milk, cheese, ice cream, butter and other dairy products can cause constipation in some people. They are low in fibre and high in fat. Children and babies in particular are more likely to have constipation from consuming too much dairy products.

Never Resist the Urge to Pass Stools

Each time you resist or ignore the urge to go to the toilet, you increase your risk of constipation. If you can, set a time in the day when you can use the toilet comfortably and can have enough privacy.

Reduce your Intake of Processed Foods

Processed and packaged foods are low in fibre and other essential nutrients. When you consume these foods in excess, you not only increase your risk of constipation, you also increase your chances of overweight or obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and other serious health conditions.

Preparing your own meals is a great way to limit your intake of fast foods. To make your cooking healthier, add more greens and vegetables, use healthy oils like olive and flaxseed, choose fish over meats and avoid frying.

If your condition does not improve after making these changes, then you should see your doctor. Your doctor might prescribe certain medications that would help to provide relief from your symptoms. You should also see your doctor immediately if you suddenly develop constipation with stomach pain or cramping. If you have severe pain each time you visit the toilet or you notice blood in your stools, you should see your doctor right away.

In Conclusion

The lifestyle and dietary changes discussed above are also effective in preventing constipation. In addition to these factors, managing stress is also as important. Stress is a normal part of living and there isn’t much you can do to avoid it, but you can manage them effectively through healthy coping mechanisms.