What is Constipation?

It is defined as hard, pellet-shaped stools that can leave people with a feeling of incomplete emptying after having a bowel movement. Constipation can also alternate with normal bowel habits or diarrhea.1 Those who experience constipation, often note having to strain to push these hard or lumpy stools. They may also report symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.3

Constipation is one of the most common symptoms of IBS, particularly in people with IBS-C or IBS-M.1 Generally, more women appear to suffer from constipation than men.3

What Causes Constipation?

There are several causes of constipation. The most common of these is poor lifestyle and dietary habits. Many people don’t realise they are not eating enough fiber and getting enough exercise.

Other things to consider include:

  • Hormonal and central nervous system disorders
  • Pregnancy
  • Use of certain medication
  • Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Dehydration
  • Changes in menstrual cycle

It is also common for women who have previously given birth to experience constipation due to injuries sustained during child birth.

Constipation Treatment

Although some people may resort to laxatives, this isn’t a recommended option. 

Instead, there are many ways one can support regular bowel movements through diet and lifestyle: 

  • Eat more fiber! Foods with dietary fiber add bulk to your stools and soften them to help move things along.
  • Move regularly. Exercise has been shown to help with peristalsis. Ensure you get some sort of daily movement. 
  • Drink a lot of water! Your stools get through better when they’re hydrated. 
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and cola drinks. They can worsen constipation by causing dehydration. 

If it’s a very recurring issue, it’s best to address with a medical doctor. Your doctor will take an overview of your medical history, perform a physical examination and may order routine or specialised tests to confirm the cause. These tests can include blood tests, abdominal X-ray, colonoscopy and colonic transit studies. They may also use the Bristol Stool Scale to differentiate constipation from diarrhea, and monitor your treatment response.1


References

  1. Wilkins T, Pepitone C, Alex B, Schade RR. Diagnosis and management of IBS in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86:419-426.
  2. Heidelbaugh JJ, Stelwagon M, Miller SA, Shea EP, Chey WD. The spectrum of constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: US survey assessing symptoms, care seeking, and disease burden. Am J Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr;110(4):580-7.
  3. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. IBS in the Real World Survey. Summary Findings. August 2002.
  4. IBS Patients: Their Illness Experience and Unmet Needs. IFFGD 2009.