Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint, and it results in approximately 2.5 million doctor visits on an annual basis. Over 4 million people in the United States have chronic or frequent constipation, which can be uncomfortable and painful and can severely affect their quality of life. Read on to learn more about constipation, what causes chronic constipation, and what types of treatment are available.
In general, constipation is considered to be the inability to poop more than three times per week. Usually, constipated stools are hard and dry and can be difficult to pass, which can cause straining, leading to other medical problems. Everyone’s body is different; some people may have several bowel movements per day, while others are perfectly healthy having only three bowel movements a week. However, if that number drops under three, the person is considered to have constipation issues. Chronic constipation is constipation that occurs frequently and is not easily relieved by using laxatives. Chronic constipation is more common in women than in men.
As everyone’s body is different, so are the reasons a person may be constipated or have fecal impaction. If you have hard and dry stools and suffer from constipation, this means that your colon has absorbed too much water, resulting in stools that have difficulty passing through the colon (also known as the large intestine). In addition to having dry stool, the colon’s movements are inefficient and sluggish, which also contributes to constipation. In general, constipation is caused by:
When it comes to chronic constipation, there may be other root causes that may be more serious. Chronic constipation is associated with disorders and problems such as:
Those over 45-50 who suffer from chronic constipation should make an appointment with their healthcare provider to ensure that there isn’t a secondary problem. While not as common as some other causes, chronic constipation can be a marker for both colon and rectal cancer, so it’s a good idea just to check in to make sure everything’s okay.
Chronic constipation is constipation that occurs often, and it is often characterized by:
If you have these symptoms often, you may be suffering from chronic constipation.
If you visit your GI doctor due to constipation, they will likely perform diagnostic tests first to discover the root cause before they can treat you. The first tests would likely be blood and urine samples. These can let the doctor know if you have problems with your thyroid, have anemia, potential cancer, or some other problem.
Your healthcare provider may order imaging tests. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (completed topography) scans are often used to give the doctor an internal look at what may be causing your constipation. A colorectal transit study is another possibility. During this test, you’ll ingest a small amount of a radioactive substance, and your physician will time how long it takes to move through your digestive system and your intestines.
Colonoscopy is another possibility. If you’re 45 or over or have severe chronic constipation, your doctor may order a colonoscopy so they can get a close-up look at your colon function. A colonoscope is a small tool that is inserted while you are under some form of anesthesia. During a colonoscopy, the doctor will take a sample (biopsy) of your colon to check for polyps, which are the hallmark of colorectal cancer. This test can rule out more serious issues, such as colon cancer.
Generally, constipation is treated with some lifestyle changes along with some over-the-counter medications, such as laxatives. Your doctor may recommend some of these “home remedies” or dietary changes to try to relieve your constipation. Some forms of constipation relief include:
Other treatments for chronic constipation, if diet and lifestyle changes don’t work, include:
If constipation isn’t treated, you may be straining while making a bowel movement, leading to other gastrointestinal problems such as hemorrhoids. To learn more about constipation, or if you need to be seen by a doctor regarding your chronic constipation, contact us at Carolina Digestive today. We provide a full spectrum of comprehensive and diagnostic care when it comes to gastrointestinal disorders and problems.