Constipation

What is constipation?

Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. The normal length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. Typically, going longer than three days without a bowel movement is considered to be too long.

Causes
Symptoms
Diagnosis
Treatment
Causes: 
  • Inadequate water intake
  • Inadequate fiber in the diet
  • A disruption of regular diet or routine; traveling
  • Inadequate activity or exercise or immobility
  • Eating large amounts of dairy products
  • Stress
  • Resisting or ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Overuse of stimulant laxatives
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis
  • Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Medicines, ie. narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Colon cancer
Symptoms: 
  • Infrequent bowel movements or difficulty having bowel movements (straining)
  • Hard or small stools
  • Sense of incomplete bowel movement
  • Swollen or distended abdomen
  • Abdominal or rectal pain
  • Vomiting
  • There may also be occasional diarrhea resulting from hard stool obstructing the colon.
Diagnosis: 

You are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following for at least 3 months:

  • Straining during a bowel movement more than 25% of the time
  • Hard stools more than 25% of the time
  • Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time
  • Two or fewer bowel movements in a week
Treatment: 

If you are constipated, try the following:

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day (unless fluid restricted).
  • Try warm liquids, especially in the morning.
  • Add high fiber items to your diet, ie. fruits and vegetables
  • Eat prunes and/or bran cereal.
  • If needed, use a very mild stool softener or laxative (such as Peri-Colace or Milk of Magnesia). Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor, as laxative overuse can aggravate your symptoms.