Constipation simply means infrequent passage of stool (feces). It is a condition in which you have fewer than three bowel movements a week with mostly hard and dry stools. Most often, constipation is not a cause of any underlying disease. It is a side-effect of a stressful and unhealthy lifestyle in adults and working professionals. Other reasons for constipation include dehydration, lack of fiber in your diet, no or minimal physical activity, and medications.
Constipation can happen for many reasons, such as when stool passes through the colon (also known as the large bowel or large intestine) too slowly. The slower the food moves through the digestive tract, the more water the colon will absorb and the harder the feces will become.
Sometimes, constipation results from a blockage in the large intestine. In this case, a person will need urgent medical attention. At other times, it may simply be due to a lack of fiber or water.
Read on to know more about “pebble poop” (constipation).
The main symptoms for constipation are characterized as:
Difficulty in passing stool
Straining when passing stool
Passing less stool than usual
Lumpy, dry, or hard stool
Associated symptoms of constipation include:
Pain and cramping in the abdomen
A loss of appetite
Causes Leading to Constipation
Lack of fiber in your diet. Fiber promotes regular bowel (the tube that carries waste food away from your stomach to the place where it leaves your body) movement.
Physical inactivity. If you spend several days or weeks in bed or sitting in a chair, you may have a higher risk of constipation.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is an intestinal disorder causing pain in the stomach, wind (gas), and constipation. The intestine is the tubular part that extends from the stomach to the anus.
Aging. As you age, food takes longer to pass through the digestive tract. You also become less mobile after a certain age, which may also contribute to constipation.
Changes in routine. Eating meals, going to bed, and using the bathroom at different times than usual could increase the risk of constipation.
Overuse of laxatives. Laxatives are substances that loosen stools and increase bowel movements. But regular use of certain laxatives allows the body to get used to their action. When you stop taking them, it increases the risk of severe constipation.
Avoiding going to the bathroom when needed. The longer the delay, the drier and harder the stool will become.
Not getting enough water. Increasing water content inside the gut can help soften stools and stimulate bowel movements smoothly. Consume 2 to 3 liters of water every day to stay hydrated and keep bowel movements healthy.
Complications Associated with Constipation
Constipation is not a life-threatening condition, however, can cause a great deal of discomfort. Damage that can result from a severe case of constipation include:
Rectal bleeding after straining. The rectum is where feces or stools are stored temporarily before coming out of the anus (posterior opening for the feces to come out).
Anal fissure, which is a small tear around the anus.
Hemorrhoids (piles), which are swollen, inflamed blood vessels in the anus.
Fecal impaction, which occurs when dried stool stagnates and collects in the rectum and anus, potentially leading to mechanical obstruction.
Reduced quality of life due to constant discomfort and fatigue.
Tips to Prevent and Treat Constipation
Most cases of mild to moderate constipation can be managed at home. Take inventory of what you eat and drink and then make necessary changes.
Stay hydrated. It is advised to drink around 2 to 3 liters of water every day but if you have constipation you can have two to four extra glasses of water a day. Avoid caffeine-containing drinks and alcohol, which can lead to dehydration.
Add fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (high fiber foods) to your diet. Fiber helps speed up the transit of food in the digestive tract and helps prevent constipation. Eat fewer high-fat foods, like meat, eggs, and cheese.
Maintain a food diary and single out foods that constipate you.
Exercise. Get moving. Do mild to moderate exercises for at least 30 minutes a day.
Sit on the toilet properly. Raising your feet, leaning back, or squatting may make having a bowel movement easier.
Add an over-the-counter supplemental fiber such as vitamin B9 (folic acid), and methylcellulose to your diet. Folic acid stimulates the formation of digestive acids and methylcellulose works by making the stool softer by increasing the amount of water, hence making stool easier to pass.
Take a very mild over-the-counter stool softener or laxative. Laxatives work by drawing water to the bowel from the surrounding tissue to soften and moisten the stool and also helps in increasing bowel activity. Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor.
Do not read, use your phone or other devices while trying to clear your bowels.
When to Seek Help
You should seek medical attention for constipation if you have:
Severe discomfort or worsening symptoms of constipation.
Constipation starts suddenly without a clear reason.
Ongoing constipation that has not responded to lifestyle changes.
Blood in the stool or bleeding from the rectum.
Constant pain in the abdomen or lower back.
Difficulty in passing gas.
Constipation along with fever, vomiting, and unexpected weight loss.
If possible, it is best to resolve constipation using home remedies, such as eating more fiber, drinking more water, and getting regular exercise. However, in severe and persistent cases you may need urgent medical attention.
“Move your bowels when you feel the urge. Do not wait.”
Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.