Constipation: Symptoms, Causes, Relief, and More – Healthline

Constipation is one of the most common digestive problems in the United States. Around 16 out of 100 U.S. adults have constipation. This figure doubles for adults over age 60.
It’s defined as having hard, dry bowel movements or passing stool fewer than three times a week.
Each person’s bowel habits are different. Some people go three times a day, while others go three times a week.
However, you may be constipated if you experience the following symptoms:
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends seeking medical advice if symptoms don’t go away or if you notice the following:
A healthcare professional may carry out tests to rule out a more serious condition, such as colorectal cancer or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Your colon’s main job is to absorb water from residual food as it’s passing through your digestive system. It then creates stool (waste).
The colon’s muscles eventually propel the waste out through the rectum to be eliminated. If stool remains in the colon too long, it can become hard and difficult to pass.
Poor diet frequently causes constipation. Dietary fiber and adequate water intake are necessary to help keep stools soft.
Fiber-rich foods are usually plant-based. Fiber comes in soluble and insoluble forms. Soluble fiber can dissolve in water and creates a soft, gel-like material as it passes through the digestive system.
Insoluble fiber retains most of its structure as it goes through the digestive system. Both forms of fiber join with stool, increasing its weight and size while also softening it. This makes it easier to pass through the rectum.
Stress, changes in routine, and conditions that slow muscle contractions of the colon or delay your urge to go may also lead to constipation.
Common causes of constipation include:
The following underlying health conditions can bring on constipation:
Changing your diet and increasing your physical activity level are the easiest and fastest ways to treat and prevent constipation.
You can try the following techniques as well:
If home remedies do not work, a healthcare professional may recommend an over-the-counter laxative, such as:
If you still have trouble with constipation, a healthcare professional may prescribe medications to help, such as:
A healthcare professional may also advise that you stop taking certain medications that may cause constipation.
Other strategies that may help are:
Tips for preventing constipation are similar to those for relieving it.
Try the following:
Some studies have shown that adding probiotics can be helpful for people with chronic constipation. If you add fiber supplements, remember to drink plenty of fluids. Fluids help fiber work more efficiently.
If constipation persists, or if you have concerns about your symptoms, it may be time to see a healthcare professional.
A healthcare professional:
They may recommend additional tests to identify the cause of your symptoms. Tests may include the following:
A marker study, also called a colorectal transit study, is used to test how food is moving through your colon. For this test, you’ll swallow a pill that contains tiny markers that will show up on an X-ray.
Numerous abdominal X-rays will be taken over the next few days so the healthcare professional can visualize how the food is moving through your colon and how well your intestinal muscles are working.
You may also be asked to eat a diet high in fiber during the test.
An anorectal manometry is a test used to evaluate anal sphincter muscle function. For this test, a healthcare professional will insert a thin tube with a balloon tip into your anus.
When the tube is inside, they will inflate the balloon and slowly pull it out. This test allows them to measure your anal sphincter’s muscle strength and see whether your muscles are contracting properly.
A barium enema X-ray is a type of test used to examine the colon. For this test, you’ll drink a special liquid the night before the test to clean out the bowel.
The actual test involves the insertion of a dye called barium into your rectum, using a lubricated tube. The barium highlights the rectum and colon area. This allows the healthcare professional to better view these areas on an X-ray.
A colonoscopy is another type of test healthcare professionals use to examine the colon. In this test, a healthcare professional will examine your colon using a colonoscope. This is a tube fitted with a camera and light source.
A sedative and pain medication is often given, so you’ll likely not even remember the examination and should feel no pain.
To prepare for this test, you’ll be on a liquid-only diet for 1 to 3 days. You may have to take a laxative or enema the night before the test to clean out the bowel.
Constipation is a common problem that affects people as they get older, when they use certain medications, or if they don’t have much fiber in their diet.
Most cases of constipation are mild and easily treated with changes in diet and exercise.
If you’re experiencing chronic constipation or constipation along with other bowel changes, it’s important that you talk with a healthcare professional.
Last medically reviewed on September 29, 2021
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