What is constipation?
Constipation is a common problem experienced by many people. It is a chronic condition in which bowel movements occur less often than usual, or consist of hard and dry stools that are painful or difficult to pass, or the person experiences a sense of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement.
Normal bowel movements vary from person to person. For some people, passing stool twice a day is completely normal, while for others, three times a week is the norm. Any change from the normal habit is the best way to understand if you are constipated or not.
How does constipation occur?
If you have fewer than three bowel movements in a week it means you have constipation. It is a common gastrointestinal issue, in which bowel movements are infrequent or difficult to pass.
Our gastrointestinal tract, which consists of the hollow organs such as the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine including the rectum and anus, is responsible for digestion, nutrient absorption, and waste removal.
The lower gastrointestinal tract, consisting of the large intestine, or the bowel which includes your colon and rectum, absorbs water from the digested food and changes it from a liquid consistency to a solid form, in other words into stool.
Constipation occurs when the digested food spends too much time in your colon. The colon then absorbs too much water and makes your stool hard and dry. If the stool is hard and dry it becomes difficult for your rectal muscles to push out the stool from your body.
Constipation is considered a symptom of various health issues, rather than a disease by itself. You're considered constipated if you have fewer than three bowel movements in a week.
If you suffer from constipation, you may end up straining to pass stool which is hard and dry or feel that you are not able to completely empty out your bowels.
Who is prone to constipation?
Almost everyone suffers from constipation at some point. However, some people are slightly more at risk than others, for example:
- people who are 65 years or older
- people of a low-income group
- people who have just undergone a surgery
- women who are pregnant
- a woman who has just given birth
- people who lead a sedentary lifestyle
- people who are stressed
- people who suffer from eating disorders
- people who do not include an adequate amount of fiber in their diet
- people who consume large amounts of dairy products
- people who are frequent travellers
- people who from medical conditions such as Parkinson's disease, piles, multiple sclerosis, clinical depression, colon cancer
What are the causes of constipation?
Various factors can lead to constipation, such as:
- unhealthy and irregular eating habits, or eating very small portions
- not visiting the toilet when the pressure arises
- leading a sedentary lifestyle
- insufficient exercise
- dehydration or not drinking enough water
- lack of fibre-rich foods in the diet
What are the symptoms of constipation? How is constipation diagnosed?
A number of symptoms can suggest you may be constipated. These include, but are not limited to:
- hard and difficult stools less than three times a week, requiring you to strain
- requiring laxatives more than three times a week
- stools that cause tearing and bleeding near the anus
- the feeling of not being fully emptied after going to the toilet
- a painful or distended stomach
If constipation becomes chronic, it is advisable to visit your family doctor or a general practitioner. The doctor may suggest dietary and lifestyle changes.
Constipation can also be the symptom of an underlying health condition. Therefore, the doctor may suggest the following tests to rule out other health conditions:
- Blood tests: Blood tests can specifically point out thyroid related problems, such as low thyroid.
- Sigmoidoscopy: In this test the doctor examines your rectum and the lower portion of your colon.
- Colonoscopy: This test allows your doctor to examine the entire colon with a flexible, camera-equipped tube.
- Balloon expulsion test: This test measures the amount of time it takes for you to push out a balloon that has been filled with water and placed in your rectum.
- Anorectal manometry: This test allows your doctor to measure the coordination of the muscles you use to move your bowels.
What are the complications of constipation?
The complications of constipation can include:
- Hemorrhoids or swollen veins in the anus: While having a bowel movement if you strain often, it may cause swelling in the veins in and around your anus. Infact, chronic constipation can lead to the development of piles.
- Anal fissure: Straining to pass stools can cause tiny tears in the anus.
- Fecal impaction: Hardened stool can accumulate and remain stuck in your intestines if you suffer from chronic constipation.
- Rectal prolapse: This occurs when due to too much straining over time, during bowel movements, causes a small part of the rectum to stretch and protrude from the anus.
What is the treatment of constipation?
Medical Treatment for Constipation
The doctor may prescribe some laxatives for chronic constipation. However, medicines alone are not the answer to ending constipation. It is suggested that you work alongside your doctor to adopt some healthy lifestyle habits, including adopting healthy dietary habits to resolve constipation.
Exercising can provide relief from constipation by decreasing the time it takes for the food to move through the large intestine. Exercises such as aerobics accelerate your breathing and heart rate. This helps to stimulate the intestinal muscles to contract naturally. When the intestinal muscles contract easily, they help move the stools out smoothly and quickly.
Exercises such as running, jogging, swimming, can keep your digestive tract healthy. Yoga can help cure constipation as can aerobics, and brisk walking.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
10% of the global populace suffer from constipation
The average population across the globe suffering from chronic constipation is around 10%.
Constipation, a chronic issue in India
About 14% of the Indians suffer from chronic constipation, which higher than the world average!
Constipation statistics in India
Coimbatore has the maximum number of people suffering from chronic constipation (21%), followed by Mumbai (19%), Kolkata and Delhi stand out equal taking occupying the third position (13%), Hyderabad at fourth position (6%) and Lucknow having the least number of sufferers (2%).
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