Constipation: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Constipation symptoms and causes
This article reviews the symptoms, causes, and treatment of constipation, including risk factors. Constipation is a digestive condition that occurs when a person finds it difficult to expel feces. It mostly occurs when the colon has absorbed too much water from the food. The colon absorbs more water as the food moves through the digestive tract, thereby making the feces dry and hard. Bowel movement can be excruciatingly painful as the feces tries to exit the anal passage.
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Symptoms of Constipation

  • stomach ache
  • difficulty and straining to pass out stools
  • stomach cramps
  • passing fewer stools
  • feeling bloated and nauseous
  • loss of appetite

Causes of Constipation

Constipation occurs when the colon absorbs too much water. This can occur if the muscles in the colon are contracting slowly, causing the stool to move too slowly and losing more water. Below are some possible causes of constipation.
1. Not drinking sufficient water
Drinking lots of water regularly helps prevent constipation. However, if constipation is already present, drinking more liquids might not relieve it. Avoid drinking excess sodas, alcohol, and caffeine as these drinks can lead to dehydration or aggravate constipation.
2. Not including fiber in diet
Eating foods rich in fiber helps keep constipation at bay. Consume foods rich in fiber such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber promotes bowel movements and prevents constipation.
3. Irritable bowel syndrome
People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) get constipation much more frequently, compared to those without the gastrointestinal condition.
4. Aging process
Metabolism slows down with age, causing less intestinal activity. The muscles in the digestive tract do not function properly as we grow older.
5. Pregnancy
The hormonal changes that goes with pregnancy can make a woman prone to developing constipation. Also, the uterus may compress the intestine, slowing down the passage of food.
6. Physical inactivity
Leading a sedentary life can trigger constipation. Experts believe that physical activity keeps the metabolism high, thereby making the processes in the body happen more quickly. Inactive people like older adults tends to suffer from constipation than younger people who are more physically active.
7. Medications

The most common medications that causes constipation include:

  • narcotic (opioid) pain drugs including codeine (Tylenol), oxycodone (Percocet), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • diuretics including chlorothiazide (Diuril)
  • anticonvulsants including phenytoin (Dilantin) and carbamazepine (Tegretol) iron supplements
  • calcium channel blocking drugs including diltiazem (Cardizem) and nifedipine (Procardia)
  • aluminum-containing antacids including Amphojel and Basaljel
  • antidepressants including amitriptyline (Elavil) and imipramine (Tofranil)
  1. Milk
Consuming milk and dairy products causes some people to become constipated.
2. Delay in using the toilet
Ignoring or delaying the urge to have a bowel movement can lead to constipation. The urge can gradually subside until the person no longer feels the urge. The longer it is delayed, the drier and harder the stool will become.
3. Overuse of laxatives
Some people use self-medication by taking laxatives in order to go to the toilet everyday. This is wrong. It isn’t compulsory for a person to go to toilet every day.
Laxatives are effective at helping bowel movements. However, using them regularly allows the body to get used to their action and gradually the dose needs to increase to get the same effect. Constipation can occur when a person becomes dependent on them, and stops using them.
4. Some diseases and conditions
Some diseases causes slow movement of feces through the colon, rectum, or anus, thereby leading to constipation. Such conditions include:
  • Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), stroke, and spinal cord injuries.
  • Endocrine and metabolic conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, uremia, and hypercalcemia.
  • Systemic diseases like lupus, amyloidosis, and scleroderma.
  • Some cancer treatment like chemotherapy can cause constipation.

Complications of Constipation

Constipation isn’t life-threatening. However, severe constipation can develop into more serious conditions, including:
  • hemorrhoids. This are swollen, inflamed blood vessels of veins in the rectum
  • rectal bleeding after continually straining to pass stools
  • faecal impaction. This occurs when dried stools gather in the anus and rectum, leading to a blockade in the path stool would take to leave the body
  • anal fissure. This is a small tear around the anus

Treatment for Constipation

Constipation resolves itself without any treatment or risk to health in some cases. The treatment of recurring constipation can include lifestyle changes such eating more fiber, drinking lots of water, and exercise.
Usually, laxatives will successfully treat most cases of constipation – but should be used with care and only when necessary. In more difficult cases, the person may need a prescription medication.

OTC laxatives

Only use these laxatives as a last resort:
  • Stimulants: These include Correctol, Dulcolax, and Senokot. These drugs make the muscles in the intestines contract rhythmically.
  • Lubricants:Lubricants like Fleet and mineral oil help the stool move down the colon more easily.
  • Stool softeners:Stool softeners include Colace and Surfak.
  • Fiber supplements:These are perhaps the safest laxatives. They are also called bulk laxatives. They include FiberCon, Metamucil, Konsyl, Serutan, and Citrucel and should be taken with plenty of water.
  • Osmotics:These facilitate the movement of fluids through the colon. These include Cephulac, Sorbitol, and Miralax.
  • Saline laxatives:These draw water into the colon and include milk of magnesia.
  • Chloride channel activators:These require a prescription and include lubiprostone (Amitiza).



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