Constipation is passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, usually fewer than three times
People who are constipated may find it
difficult and painful to have a bowel movement.
symptoms of constipation include feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish.
At one time or another, almost everyone gets constipated.
Poor diet and lack of exercise are usually the causes. In most cases, constipation is temporary and
Understanding its causes, prevention,
and treatment will help most people find relief.
Who gets Constipated?
According to the 1996 National Health Interview Survey, about 3 million people in the United States have frequent
Those reporting constipation most
often are women and adults age 65 and over.
women may have constipation, and it is a common problem following childbirth or surgery.
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States, resulting in about
2 million doctor visits annually.
people treat themselves without seeking medical help, as is evident from the millions of dollars Americans spend on laxatives
To understand constipation, it helps to know how the colon (large intestine) works. As food moves
through the colon, it absorbs water while forming waste products, or stool.
Muscle contractions in the colon push the stool toward the rectum. By the time stool reaches the
rectum, it is solid because most of the water has been absorbed.
Common causes of constipation are
not enough fiber in the diet
• not enough liquids
• lack of exercise
• irritable bowel syndrome
• changes in life or routine
abuse of laxatives
• ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
• problems with the colon and rectum
• problems with intestinal function
The most common cause of constipation is a
diet low in fiber found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and high in fats found in cheese, eggs, and meats.
People who eat plenty of high-fiber foods are less likely to become
Fiber--both soluble and insoluble--is the part of fruits,
vegetables, and grains that the body cannot digest.
fiber dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel-like texture in the intestines.
Insoluble fiber passes through the intestines almost unchanged.
The bulk and soft texture of fiber help prevent hard, dry stools that are difficult
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans
eat an average of 5 to 14 grams of fiber daily, 20 to 35 grams recommended by the American Dietetic Association.
Both children and adults eat too many refined and processed foods
from which the natural fiber has been removed.
A low-fiber diet also
plays a key role in constipation among older adults, who choose convenience foods low in fiber.
In addition, difficulties with chewing or swallowing may force older people to eat soft
foods that are processed and low in fiber.
Liquids like water and
juice add fluid to the colon and bulk to stools, making bowel movements softer and easier to pass.
People who have problems with constipation should drink enough of these liquids every
day, about eight 8-ounce glasses.
contain caffeine, like coffee and cola drinks, and alcohol have a dehydrating effect.
exercise can lead to constipation, although doctors do not know precisely why.
For example, constipation often occurs after an accident or during an illness when one must stay
in bed and cannot exercise.
Some medications can cause constipation.
• pain medications (especially narcotics)
antacids that contain aluminum and calcium
• blood pressure
• antiparkinson drugs
• iron supplements
Some people with IBS, also known as spastic colon, have spasms in the colon that affect
Constipation and diarrhea often
alternate, and abdominal cramping, gassiness, and bloating are other common complaints.
Although IBS can produce lifelong symptoms, it is not a life-threatening condition.
It often worsens with stress, but there is no
specific cause or anything unusual that the doctor can see in the colon.
pregnancy, women may be constipated because of hormonal changes or because the heavy uterus compresses the intestine.
Aging may also affect bowel regularity because a slower metabolism
results in less intestinal activity and muscle tone.
addition, people often become constipated when traveling because their normal diet and daily routines are disrupted.
about constipation have led to a serious abuse of laxatives.
This is common among people who are preoccupied with having a daily bowel movement.
Laxatives usually are not necessary and can be habit-forming.
The colon begins to rely on laxatives to bring on bowel movements.
Over time, laxatives can damage nerve cells in the colon and interfere
with the colon's natural ability to contract.
the same reason, regular use of enemas can also lead to a loss of normal bowel function.
People who ignore the urge to have a bowel movement may eventually stop feeling the urge, which can
lead to constipation.
Some people delay having
a bowel movement because they do not want to use toilets outside the home.
Others ignore the urge because of emotional stress or because they are too busy.
Children may postpone having a bowel movement because of stressful
toilet training or because they do not want to interrupt their play.
Diseases that cause constipation include neurological
disorders, metabolic and endocrine disorders, and systemic conditions that affect organ systems.
These disorders can slow the movement of stool through the colon, rectum, or anus.
kinds of diseases can cause constipation:
• Parkinson's disease
• chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction
• spinal cord injuries
Causes of Constipation: Metabolic and endocrine conditions
or overactive thyroid gland
Intestinal obstruction, scar tissue (adhesions), diverticulosis, tumors, colorectal
stricture, Hirschsprung's disease,
can compress, squeeze, or narrow the intestine and rectum and cause constipation.
people have chronic constipation that does not respond to standard treatment.
This rare condition, known as idiopathic (of unknown origin) chronic constipation may be related
to problems with intestinal function
problems with hormonal control or with nerves and muscles in the colon, rectum, or anus.
Functional constipation occurs in both children and adults and is most common in women.
Colonic inertia and delayed transit are two types of functional constipation
caused by decreased muscle activity in the colon.
syndromes may affect the entire colon or may be confined to the lower or sigmoid colon.
Chronic constipation, in fact, has many causes. The cause of your constipation may be
a poor diet, lack of exercise, and water, or something more serious.
If you're like many Americans, chronic constipation is something you've experienced. Over 4 million
people each year report being constipated.
understand why you may be suffering, you first need to know exactly what constipation means.
In order to be diagnosed with chronic constipation, you must have at least two of the following symptoms
for at least 12 months:
• Hard or pellet-like stools at least
25% of the time
• Straining with bowel movements at least 25%
of the time
• A feeling that you don't completely empty your
bowels at least 25% of the time
• Fewer than 3 bowel movements
• Fewer than 2 bowel movements per week with no other
Although treatment depends on the cause, severity, and duration,
in most cases dietary and lifestyle changes will help relieve symptoms
of constipation and help prevent it.
Constipation Treatment: Diet
A diet with enough fiber (20 to 35 grams each day) helps form soft, bulky stool.
A doctor or dietitian can help plan an appropriate diet.
foods include beans, whole grains and bran cereals, fresh fruits, and vegetables such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cabbage,
For people prone to constipation,
limiting foods that have little or no fiber, such as ice cream, cheese, meat, and processed foods, is also important.
Treatment: Lifestyle Changes
Other changes that can help
treat and prevent constipation include drinking enough water
and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups, engaging in daily exercise,
and reserving enough time to have a bowel movement. In addition, the urge to have a
bowel movement should not be ignored.
Other Constipation Treatments
Treatment may be directed at a specific cause.
For example, the doctor may recommend discontinuing medication or performing surgery
to correct an anorectal problem such as rectal prolapse.
People with chronic constipation caused by anorectal dysfunction can use biofeedback
to retrain the muscles that control release of bowel movements.
Biofeedback involves using a sensor to monitor muscle activity that at the same time can be displayed on a
allowing for an accurate assessment
of body functions.
A health care professional
uses this information to help the patient learn how to use these muscles.
removal of the colon may be an option for people with severe symptoms caused by colonic inertia.
However, the benefits of this surgery must be weighed against possible complications,
which include abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Ways to Achieve Constipation Relief
Drink lots of water. One of the main causes of constipation is a lack of hydration.
You should drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day to promote a
Adding lots of water is always
good in the diet for constipation sufferers.
Eat your fruits and vegetables.
It may seem like common sense, but most people
don't get enough of these nutritional power foods.
servings of fruits and vegetables each day can improve your bowel habits and provide constipation relief.
You should have at least 3 servings of vegetables every day and at least 2 servings
Adding fruits and vegetables introduces
fiber to your diet.
Fiber is instrumental in
helping the bowels move regularly with ease and give relief to constipation.
Getting the toxins out will improve resistance
to disease, normalize your weight, and increase your physical and mental stamina.
It’s similar to an oil change in your car. You need to clean out the sludge so your body can
operate more effectively.