Constipation is a digestive medical condition occurring when your bowel movements become non-existent or less frequent and are more difficult. The length of time between bowel movements will be different for every person. When they become further apart from what is normal for you, it can be considered constipation. If you go longer than 3 days before having a bowel movement, you are constipated and your first bowel movement after this length of time will be uncomfortable and most likely painful. Constipation is classified as having hard stools more ¼ of the time, straining during bowel movements more than ¼ of the time, two or less bowel movements in a week, or not emptying completely more than ¼ of the time.
Constipation can be caused from a variety of things, but most commonly from bowel dysfunction. The cause of the structural problem or dysfunction is typically from lifestyle changes. These include not drinking enough water, having an inadequate amount of fiber in your diet, traveling or having another disruption of your normal diet, improper amount of exercise, eating too much dairy, stress, not having a bowel movement when you need to, using laxatives too much, depression, using antacid medicines with aluminum or calcium, taking certain types of medications and a variety of medical conditions including pregnancy, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, eating disorders, hypothyroidism and neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.
It is fairly easy t find out if you’re suffering from constipation based on the signs and symptoms you’re experiencing. The main symptoms of constipation include having infrequent bowel movements, painful bowel movements, or having to strain more often during bowel movements, abdominal pain or swelling, nausea and vomiting.
Most people don’t need tests done to find out if they have constipation, though some seek medical attention when the constipation issues become chronic, uncomfortable or even painful. This is because persistent constipation may in fact be a sign of another medical condition or disease that needs to be addressed. On average, constipation lasting more than 2 weeks warrants a doctor visit. Typical diagnostic tests for constipation include blood tests to find out if you have a hormonal imbalance, barium studies which looks for colon obstructions, or a colonoscopy.
The main course of treatment for constipation is changing your lifestyle, especially if the constipation continues to recur. This includes eating a high-fiber diet, getting regular exercise, drinking plenty of water and other fluids, having a bowel movement when you need to and taking sufficient time for the bowel movement, and avoiding laxatives unless they are absolutely necessary. This includes fiber supplements, simulants, lubricants, stool softeners, osmotics, and saline laxatives. These should only be used when other methods of treatment don’t work. Treatment may also include medications such as chloride channel activators or 5-HT-4 agonists.