Constipation is a condition of the digestive system in which the person finds it difficult to expel the fecal matter. The person may experience infrequent bowel movements which may persist for several days to weeks. Occasional constipation is a common condition many people may experience. But, chronic constipation is a serious condition which may interfere in the ability to perform the daily activities.
The normal duration between bowel movements may vary from one person to another and therefore a few people may have bowel movements two to three times a day and a few may have bowel movements two to three times a week. This makes the fecal matter hard and difficult to expel.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The signs and symptoms of constipation are:
- Passing two to three stools a week
- Passing hard and lumpy stools
- Feeling of not completely emptying the rectum
- Feeling a blockage in the rectum
- Straining to have bowel movements
- Needing help to empty the rectum like pressing the abdomen or using fingers to remove the fecal matter out of the rectum etc
- Belly may look bulged due to accumulation of fecal matter
- Finding blood on the skin of the anus
- Urge to go again even after having a bowel movement
The process of digestion begins with the munching of food. It passes through the mouth, stomach, small intestine, then leads to the large intestine, and finally gets out of the body through the rectum.
Constipation occurs when the large intestine absorbs too much water from the food and makes it hard and difficult to push it out of the body. The various causes of constipation are;
- Lack of fiber in the diet
- Some medications of constipation are pain-killers and anti-depressants
- Taking calcium & iron supplements
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Change in routine activity due to pregnancy, travel, or aging
- Abuse of laxatives
- Not drinking enough water
- Not responding to the urge of having a bowel movement
- No physical activity
- Problem in colon and rectum
- Problem with intestinal function
The tests performed to diagnose the condition are based on the severity, age, duration of the problem, any changes observed in the bowel movements etc. Not many tests are required to diagnose the condition.
- Physical examination is the first thing the doctor performs. The doctor may also ask for the complete medical history of the patient.
- Rectal examination is a part of physical examination. The doctor inserts his gloved fingers into the patient’s rectum to check for the tenderness, any abnormal growth and the blood strains.
- A detailed medical history which includes information like duration of constipation, consistency of stool, frequency of bowel movement, and whether or not blood strains are found in the stool. The doctor may also ask about the eating habits, medications, and the amount of physical activity, all these will help him determine the exact cause of constipation.
The following tests are performed for people with severe symptoms.
- Sigmoidoscopy is performed to check the large intestine.
- Colonoscopy is performed to look into the entire large intestine.
- Barium meal X-ray is done to identify the changes or abnormalities in the stomach. In this test, the patient is asked to swallow barium which is a liquid. As it travels through the stomach, the condition of the stomach is known in the form of an X-ray.
- Ano-rectal function test & defecography is performed to see how effectively the feces are pushed out.
Though, the treatment procedure differs based on the severity and duration of constipation, dietary changes help in getting relief from the symptoms. Treatment includes eating food like whole grains, bran cereals, fruits, vegetables, and other fiber rich food, and consuming enough water, fruit and vegetable juice to avoid dehydration. Also, allot time for regular exercise. Do not ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. In severe cases laxatives and enemas may be recommended for a short time.
Few simple steps to prevent constipation are:
- Eat more fibrous food
- Drink plenty of fluids, which may include water, juice, soups or any other drink
- Exercise regularly
- Say No to alcohol and caffeine as they deplete the water content in the body
- Never ignore an urge to have a bowel movement
- Allot plenty of time for a good and relaxed bowel movement
- Do not take too much of laxatives as it can worsen your condition
- Avoid food that are high in fat and sugar as they may cause constipation