What Is Constipation?

Constipation is defined as hard, pellet-shaped stools that can leave people with a feeling of incomplete emptying after having a bowel movement.

Signs of Constipation

Constipation is likely if you have:

  • Fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • Hard, dry or lumpy stools
  • To strain or are in pain when you have a poo
  • A feeling that not all the stool has passed

You may also have a temporary stomach ache, feel bloated or be sick.

Constipation is not a disease, but could be a symptom of another medical problem. It can last for a short or long time.

Constipation is one of the most common symptoms of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS1.) It can alternate with normal bowel habits or diarrhea1, and can be accompanied by symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.

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

Generally, more women appear to suffer from constipation than men.Giving birth also raises chances of subsequent instances due to injuries sustained during child birth.

Constipation Treatment

Making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can help relieve constipation:

  • 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.

You may notice a difference within a few days. Though it can also take a few weeks before your symptoms improve.

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

When to get Medical Advice

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 it 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. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22963061/ 
  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.  DOI: 10.1038/ajg.2015.67
  3. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. IBS in the Real World Survey. Summary Findings. August 2002. https://iffgd.org/wp-content/uploads/IBSinRealWorld_Final.pdf 
  4. IBS Patients: Their Illness Experience and Unmet Needs. IFFGD 2009.

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