Constipation is a common but painful condition that occurs when bowel movements become infrequent or difficult. It can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, stress, pregnancy, cancer, depression, and more.
The best way to prevent constipation is eating a healthy diet, exercising, and drinking plenty of water. Laxatives can help relieve constipation. Follow the links below to find WebMD’s comprehensive coverage about what causes constipation, how to treat it, and more.
What Is Constipation?
Your digestive system is remarkably efficient. In the space of a few hours, it extracts nutrients from the foods you eat and drink, processes them into the bloodstream and prepares leftover material for disposal. That material passes through about 20 feet of intestine before being stored temporarily in the colon, where water is removed. The residue is excreted through the bowels, normally within a day or two. Depending on your diet, age, and daily activity, regularity can mean anything from three bowel movements a day to three each week. If fecal material sits in the colon, the harder the stool becomes and the more difficult it is to pass. A normal stool should not be either unusually hard or soft, and you shouldn’t have to strain unreasonably to pass it.
What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?
What Causes Constipation?
Our busy, modern lifestyles may be responsible for most cases of constipation: not eating enough fiber or drinking enough water, not getting enough exercise, and not taking the time to respond to an unmistakable urge to go to the bathroom. Persistent, chronic constipation may also be a symptom of more serious conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, colorectal cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, or an under active thyroid gland. Bowel habits tend to vary with age and circumstances. Bottle-fed babies, for example, tend to have firmer stools and more bouts of constipation than breast-fed babies. Some children become constipated when they start school or other activities, because they are embarrassed to ask permission to use the toilet. Toddlers often become constipated during toilet training if he or she is unwilling or afraid to use the toilet. Being sensitive to pain, children may avoid the toilet if they have minor splits or tears in the anus from straining or other irritations. Kids can also become constipated from consuming certain foods, such as dairy products.
Call Your Doctor About Constipation If:
- Constipation is associated with fever and lower abdominal pain or swelling
- You have vomiting or a loss of appetite
- You have blood in your stools; this may be from a fissure or hemorrhoid but could also be a sign of colorectal cancer; changes in bowel movement pattern, such as passing pencil-thin stools, may also signal colorectal cancer
- Your constipation develops after you start a new prescription drug or take vitamin or mineral supplements; you may need to discontinue the medication or change dosage
- You or your child has been constipated for two weeks
- You are elderly or disabled and have been constipated for a week or more; you may have an impacted stool
- You are losing weight even though you aren’t dieting
- You have pain with bowel movements
The symptoms of constipation include:
- Hard, compacted stools that are difficult or painful to pass
- Straining during bowel movements
- Fewer bowel movements than usual
- Stomachache or cramping that is relieved by bowel movements
- Bloody stools due to tearing of hemorrhoids and anal fissures
- Leaks of wet, almost diarrhea-like stool between regular bowel movements
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