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Constipation: The Basics

  • All
  • Overview
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment

What is constipation?

Constipation refers to infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools. Chronic constipation may last for several weeks or longer. Having less than three bowel movements a week is considered constipation.

What are the symptoms of constipation?

Symptoms of constipation include passing less than three stools a week, having lumpy or hard stools, straining, and feeling as though the rectum is blocked and not emptying completely. If the symptoms have persisted for three months or more, it would be considered chronic constipation.

What causes constipation?

Slow stool movement or incomplete elimination causes constipation in most situations. The causes behind slow movement are numerous and range from lack of water intake to pregnancy to colon cancer. The most likely reasons are lack of fluid intake, lack of fiber in the diet, blockages in the colon or rectum, problems with rectal nerves or muscles, medications (especially opioids), and hormone imbalances.

When is constipation an emergency?

Constipation should be considered a medical emergency if you experience severe abdominal or rectal pain. Other symptoms of constipation becoming an emergency include vomiting due to fecal impaction, general malaise, and a complete inability to pass gas. Constipation that develops into a complete inability to have a bowel movement and/or blood in stool are other signs of an emergency situation.

How is constipation treated?

Constipation treatment includes increasing water and fiber intake, exercising, and not ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement. If lifestyle changes are not helping, laxatives and other medications can help. Lubricants, stool softeners, enemas and suppositories are also regularly used.

Can constipation cause weight gain?

Constipation can become complicated if the condition is chronic; however, weight gain is not a complication. Hemorrhoids, anal fissures, fecal impaction, and rectal prolapse are the complications that may arise from chronic constipation. Other symptoms not commonly present with constipation should be evaluated by a medical professional.

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