Constipation is when your stools are painful or they do not happen often enough; it is the most common gastrointestinal problem. Constipation may occur if you have bowel movements less than 3 times a week, and/or your stool is hard, dry, and in small pieces. Normal bowel movements vary depending on the person; they may happen as often as 3 times a day, or they may happen just 3 times a week.
Your stool gets hard and dry when your colon absorbs too much water. In most cases, as food moves through your colon, it absorbs water when it makes stool. Muscle movements push the stool toward your rectum, and when the stool gets to the rectum, most of the water has been soaked up. The stool is now solid. If you have constipation, your colon's muscle movements are too slow which causes the stool to move through your colon too slowly. The colon absorbs too much water, and the stool gets very hard and dry. Some of the most common diet and lifestyle causes of constipation include:
Other causes of constipation are:
Although each person's symptoms may vary, symptoms may include:
These symptoms can look like other health problems. Always consult with your physician to be sure.
Most people have constipation at one time or another. To see if you have constipation, your physician will do several tests; these tests will depend on how long you have had symptoms and how serious your case is. Your physician will look at your age, if you have any blood in your stool, any changes in your bowel habits and if any weight loss has occurred first. Your physician will also ask about your past health. You will be asked to give details about your constipation; this includes how long you have had symptoms, how often you have bowel movements, and any other information that may be helpful. You will be given a physical exam. You physician may also want to do a digital rectal exam, where a gloved, lubricated finger is gentled put into your rectum. Your physician will check the muscle that closes off the anus with his or her finger. This exam helps tell if the area is soft, blocked, or bloody. It can also check how much and what kind of stool you have and whether your rectum is bigger than normal. Your physician may want to include other tests such as:
Your physician will come up with a care plan for you based on:
In most cases, diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce constipation symptoms; they can also stop it from happening. These changes may include: