Constipation is a very common gastrointestinal disorder experienced by most people at some time during their lives. Left untreated, constipation affects nutrient absorption and long term stool formation issues.
Approximately 2-3 % of the population in particular, elderly people suffer from severe and recurrent constipation. If this is the case, then this needs to be taken up with your local doctor. They can provide advice on suitable lifestyle measures and may offer laxatives to restore bowel functionality. Constipation can give rise to some unpleasant and uncomfortable side effects such as haemorrhoids, tearing and ultimately damage to the anus.
Essentially, constipation is caused by large intestine absorbing excessive water from the stool or the bowel walls cannot contract fast enough to pass the stool and waste products fast enough. There are many cause(s) of constipation:
o Typically a low fiber and / or fluid intake are the most common causes of constipation
o Immobility due to a sedentary lifestyle or an individuals motivation levels
o Changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, aging and stress
o Irritable bowel syndrome
o Metabolic disorders- Hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, hypercalcaemia and porphyrias
o Medications used for pain control, blood pressure, anti-depressants and iron supplements
o Ignoring the urge to defecate. Children often experience constipation as they hold back bowel movements or simply forget to go to the toilet.
It is rare for constipation to indicate a serious underlying condition such as colorectal cancer. Therefore, it is important that recurrent or severe cases of constipation are assessed by a doctor ASAP.
o Stomach pains and / or visible bloating
o Straining during defecation
o Sporadic passing of hard stools
o Nausea, headache and depression could be potentially linked to constipation
To assist in identifying the root cause your doctor normally asks a lot of questions pertaining to timing, stool features, diet any existing medical conditions. This will be followed by a physical examination of the abdomen, pelvis and rectum. These investigations are particularly important, especially if you’re over 50, recently lost weight, have blood present in your stools or have a family history of colon cancer.
Treatment of constipation largely focuses on treating the underlying cause. You may consider several measures to help treat your problem. These may include:
o Eating a well-balanced diet incorporating plenty of fiber. A dietician will be able to assist Supplements such as Metamucil can have significant side effects such as cramping and gas.
o Drink plenty of fluids
o Regular and moderate exercise. A brisk walk for 30 minutes at least 3 to 4 times per week
o Responding to your body when it tells you it needs to defecate. Delaying can damage and weaken the bowel
o Addressing diseases or conditions that cause constipation
It goes without saying that prevention is better than cure. Employing these lifestyle measures may prevent constipation developing in the first place! If you have severe constipation and the above measures do not help, please don’t hesitate to see your doctor. Prolonged use of laxatives can cause severe damage and lead to ‘lazy bowel syndrome’ where your bowel becomes reliant on them to function properly.