Constipation

Constipation

Illustration of the anatomy of the digestive system, adult
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What is constipation?

Constipation is a condition in which a person has uncomfortable or infrequent bowel movements. Generally, a person is considered to be constipated when bowel movements result in passage of small amounts of hard, dry stool, usually fewer than three times a week. However, normal stool elimination may consist of having a bowel movement three times a day or three times a week; it depends on the person.

About 4 million people in the United States have frequent constipation. Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint, resulting in 2.5 million doctor visits annually.

What causes constipation?

Hard, dry stools are the result of the colon absorbing too much water. Normally, as food moves through the colon (also known as the large intestine) the colon absorbs water while forming stool (waste products). Muscle contractions then push the stool toward the rectum, and, by the time the stool reaches the rectum, most of the water has been absorbed, making the stool solid.

When the colon's muscle contractions are slow or sluggish, the stool moves through the colon too slowly, resulting in too much water being absorbed. Some of the most common causes of constipation include the following:

What are the symptoms of constipation?

The following are the most common symptoms of constipation. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of constipation may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is constipation diagnosed?

The tests performed by a doctor will depend on the duration and severity of the constipation, since most persons experience constipation at one time or another. The doctor will also take into account the patient's age, and whether there is blood in the stool, recent changes in bowel habits, or weight loss.

Diagnosing constipation may include:

Other diagnostic tests may include:

Treatment for constipation

Specific treatment for constipation will be determined by your doctor based on:

Most often, constipation can be treated through dietary and lifestyle changes, which relieve symptoms and help prevent the condition. Treatment may include:

Lifestyle changes, such as increased water and juice intake, regular exercise, and allowing enough time for daily bowel movements can be helpful.

What are good fiber sources?

FoodsModerate fiberHigh fiber
Bread Whole wheat bread, granola bread, wheat bran muffins, Nutri-Grain waffles, popcorn  
Cereal Bran Flakes, Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, Frosted Mini Wheats, oatmeal, Muslix, granola, oat bran All-Bran, Bran Buds, Corn Bran, Fiber One, 100% Bran
Vegetables Beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, corn, green beans, green peas, acorn and butternut squash, spinach, potato with skin, avocado  
Fruits Apples with peel, dates, papayas, mangos, nectarines, oranges, pears, kiwis, strawberries, applesauce, raspberries, blackberries, raisins Cooked prunes, dried figs
Meat substitutes Peanut butter , nuts Baked beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, lima beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, chili with beans, trail mix

What are complications of constipation?

Constipation can cause complications, such as hemorrhoids, which occur by straining to have a bowel movement, or anal fissures (tears in the skin around the anus) which occur when hard stool stretches the sphincter muscle. This can result in rectal bleeding.

Sometimes, straining also causes rectal prolapse, where a small amount of intestinal lining pushes out from the anal opening. Constipation may also cause fecal impaction, which occurs mostly in children and older adults. The hard stool packs the intestine and rectum so tightly that the normal pushing action of the colon is not enough to expel the stool.

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Online Resources of Digestive Disorders

 

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