Definition Of Constipation
WHAT IS CONSTIPATION
Constipation occurs when a person has difficulty emptying the large bowel. Home remedies and lifestyle changes can often help resolve it, but sometimes, it may need medical attention.
Constipation can happen for many reasons, such as when stool passes through the colon too slowly. The slower the food moves through the digestive tract, the more water the colon will absorb and the harder the feces will become.
A person who poops fewer than 3 times per week may have constipation.
Sometimes, constipation results from a blockage in the large intestine. In this case, a person will need urgent medical attention. At other times, it may simply be due to a lack of fiber or water.
This article will cover the main causes of constipation and how to treat or prevent it.
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affects children and babies.
If a newborn does not pass meconium, their first solid stool, within 48 hours of birth, they may have Hirschsprung’s disease.
This is a condition wherein certain nerve cells are missing from part of the large intestine. The stool is unable to move forward in the affected area of the colon, which causes a backup.
A healthcare provider will usually be able to spot these symptoms and recommend surgery as treatment. In most cases, the outlook is good for babies born with this condition.
If a breastfed baby goes a week without passing stool, this is not usually a problem. Breastfed infants do not usually experience constipation.
However, if parents or caregivers have concerns about a baby’s bowel movements, they can seek medical advice.
More commonly, constipation can occur:
when an infant first starts taking formula feeds
during potty training
at times of stress
If an infant experiences constipation while consuming formula feed, they may benefit from drinking extra water between feeds. Parents and caregivers should not add extra water to the formula, however.
If the infant is already consuming solids, they may need more fiber and water in their diet. Fruit can be a good option. However, do not force children to eat if they do not want to, as this can cause or add to the stress.
During potty training, constipation can occur if a child feels stressed, especially if other changes are occurring, such as starting at nursery. Giving the child plenty of time to empty their bowels may help.
Apart from not passing stool, some symptoms that indicate constipation in children include:
a firm or distended abdomen
According to one source, around 40% of women experience constipation during pregnancy.
This can result from:
physical changes, such as when the uterus presses on the intestines
dietary or physical activity changes
Many women take iron supplements during pregnancy. These can contribute to constipation and other changes in bowel habits.
Constipation usually resolves itself without the need for prescription treatment. In most cases, making lifestyle changes — such as getting more exercise, eating more fiber, and drinking more water — can help.
Allowing time for defecation, without stress or interruption, may also help. People should also not ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
Laxatives can improve symptoms in the short term, but people should use them with care and only when necessary. This is because some laxatives can have severe adverse effects.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges people to check with their doctor before using them and to follow the instructions on the label with care.
If constipation persists, people should see a doctor. They may need stronger medication. The doctor may also test for any underlying conditions.
Keeping a record of bowel movements, stool characteristics, and dietary and other factors may help find a suitable treatment.
Some laxatives are available over the counter, while others are available with a prescription.
People should only consider using laxatives if making lifestyle changes has not helped. It is best to check with a doctor before use.
The following are some laxatives and stool softeners that may help ease constipation
Stimulants: These cause the muscles in the intestines to contract rhythmically. Senokot is one example.
Lubricants: These help the stool move smoothly through the colon. One example is mineral oil (Fleet).
Stool softeners: These moisten the stool. Examples include Colace and Surface.
Osmotics: These draw water into the colon to hydrate the stool and ease movement. Saline laxatives are a type of osmotic.
Neuromuscular agents: These include opioid antagonists and 5-HT4 agonists. They work at specific receptors to regulate movement through the gut.
How do stool softeners compare with other laxatives? Find out here.
Other treatment options
If laxatives do not work, a doctor may need to remove impacted stool manually or surgically.
If constipation does not respond to treatment or if there are other symptoms, a doctor may suggest an abdominal imaging study — such as a CT scan, MRI scan, or X-ray — to see if there is a blockage due to an underlying disease process in the gut.
If there is, a person may need specific prescription medications or surgery to resolve it. Depending on the results of the tests and the person’s response to medical or surgical therapy, they may also need further treatment.
Find out more about the causes and treatments of hard stool here.
Some methods of easing constipation without using medication include:
Increasing fiber intake
Adults should eat 25–31 grams of fiber every day. Fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fortified cereals, have a high fiber content.
Adding fiber-containing bulking agents to meals can help soften stools and make them easier to pass. One option is to sprinkle a tablespoon of wheat bran onto breakfast cereals or add it to yogurt or smoothie.
Water can help rehydrate the body and prevent constipation.
Getting regular exercise
This can help make bodily processes more regular, including the passing of stools.
Establishing a routine
Have a usual place and time of day to visit the bathroom without forcing a stool.
Avoiding holding in stools
Responding to the body’s urges to pass stools can help prevent constipation.
Elevating the feet
Some people find it easier to pass stools during a bowel movement if they place their feet on a low platform, such as a step, with their knees above hip level.
Complementary and alternative remedies
Other possible therapies include
acupuncture, massage, herbal remedies, and moxibustion, which involves stimulating acupuncture points with the herb mugwort.
One 2015 study concluded that acupuncture and herbal remedies may help, but that more evidence is needed to confirm the usefulness of these methods.
That being said, the use of herbal remedies is complex, and people should always speak to a doctor before trying anything new, as they can have adverse effects.
Anyone who has concerns about constipation should speak to their doctor.
People should seek medical attention for constipation if the following symptoms also develop:
severe discomfort or worsening symptoms
constipation that starts suddenly without a clear reason
ongoing constipation that has not responded to lifestyle changes
blood in the stool or bleeding from the rectum
constant pain in the abdomen or lower back
difficulty passing gas
unexpected weight loss
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Constipation is a common occurrence that can result from dietary habits, medical conditions, and a range of other factors.
If possible, it is best to resolve it using home remedies, such as eating more fiber, drinking more water, and getting regular exercise.
If a person has severe symptoms or discomfort, if constipation comes on suddenly, or if symptoms get worse, they should speak to their doctor.
I have heard that if you have constipation, you should avoid bananas, rice, and yogurt. Is this true?
Many health professionals consider yogurt with probiotics to be beneficial to colon health, and probiotics may help in treating constipation. However, consuming too much may lead to loose stools.
Green bananas do have a higher starch and tannin content than bananas that are ripe and yellow, so a person may want to avoid eating less ripened bananas if they worsen their constipation symptoms.
A diet heavy in starch, such as that which occurs in rice, may also give rise to constipation.
When eating any type of food — even healthful ones — people should consider the amount they eat, how their body reacts to certain foods and the overall balance of food groups. People should try to eat a diet that is healthful and well-balanced, which will help prevent or treat constipation. Such a diet should include a good balance of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains, which contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Staying well-hydrated and physically active will also help prevent or relieve constipation.
If a person has specific questions regarding a diet to address constipation, they should talk to their physician, who will be able to help make suggestions to best accomplish this.