Constipation

Overview

Constipation is a common, and most often temporary, gastrointestinal condition in which bowel movements are infrequent or difficult. There can be many causes for constipation including a diet lacking in fiber, irritable bowel syndrome or hormonal fluctuations in pregnancy. Lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications such as laxatives can treat most cases.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of constipation include infrequent bowel movements, hard and dry stools, straining to produce a bowel movement, a feeling of blockage or incomplete bowel movements or the need to manually extract stool in order to pass it. These symptoms generally clear up within a matter of days or weeks. Chronic constipation can be more serious. In addition to the common symptoms, chronic constipation sufferers may notice that constipation lasts for several weeks to months and has additional symptoms. Chronic constipation symptoms include blood present in bowel movements, severe abdominal pain, very thin stools, pain in the rectum and unintended weight loss. In addition, chronic constipation may not be cured by changes in diet and exercise that normally remedy constipation.

Diagnosis

During a medical exam, a physician will diagnose constipation based on patient symptoms, but may also ask questions about diet, medical history and any medications being taken in order to determine the cause. For chronic constipation, further tests may be ordered to check for blockage or physiological abnormalities in the intestines, colon or rectum that may be causing the constipation.

Causes

Constipation can have a number of causes, but it essentially occurs whenever stool moves through the intestines too slowly. Muscle contractions in the intestines may be very slow causing too much water to be extracted from the stool. This allows the stool to dry out and become difficult to pass. There are many reasons the intestinal tract may slow down. Too little liquid or fiber in the diet, delay of bowel movements, lack of exercise, and illnesses and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or thyroid disease can all lead to the slowing of the intestinal tract. Changes in lifestyle, fluctuating hormones and certain medications can also cause constipation. Finally, physiological issues such as intestinal obstruction, anal fissures, diverticulitis and hemorrhoids can make the passage of stool difficult or painful and can lead to constipation. Continue reading for Prevention information . . .

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