Constipation is more than just difficulty having a bowel movement — it can be quite painful and may represent a serious issue in your digestive tract.
Constipation means difficulty passing stools, very infrequent stools, or both. Healthy people can have as few as three bowel movements per week, so you may have constipation if you have two or fewer bowel movements in a week.
What are the symptoms of constipation?
Constipation symptoms can include:
- Hard stools
- Dry stools
- Lumpy stools
- Small stools
- Straining to pass stools
- Sensation of a full bowel, even after having a bowel movement
- Abdominal cramping
Constipation can be quite uncomfortable or even painful, with increasing symptoms the longer you go without a bowel movement. Chronic constipation can lead to complications like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, impacted stools, and diverticulitis.
What causes constipation?
Constipation can occur when dehydration, dietary changes, activity changes, or medications cause unusually slow stool movement through your intestines. When stool moves more slowly than usual, it loses a lot of the water that keeps it soft, so it grows drier and harder to pass.
Lack of muscle coordination in your pelvic and anal muscles can potentially contribute to constipation as well. Although it’s rare, a bowel blockage could also cause constipation.
How is constipation diagnosed?
In most cases, NVG can diagnose constipation during a discussion about your symptoms. To determine the root cause of your constipation, you may need tests like lab work, stool tests, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, abdominal X-ray, or other tests.
What is the best treatment for constipation?
Constipation treatment usually involves lifestyle changes along with medication as needed. If you have an underlying issue or a complication of constipation, treatment starts with addressing that problem.
A few of the changes NVG may recommend include:
- Increasing the fiber in your diet, which may include supplements
- Avoiding foods that trigger constipation
- Drinking more water
- Avoiding beverages that can dehydrate you, such as caffeine
- Exercising regularly
- Never delaying bowel movements
If you’re taking a medication causing chronic constipation, the team may prescribe an alternative drug that works just as well but without the constipation side effect.