Constipation means different things to different people. For many people, it simply means infrequent stools. For others, however, constipation means hard stools, difficulty passing stools (straining), or a sense of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement. The cause of each of these types of constipation probably is different, and the approach to each should be tailored to the specific type of constipation. Constipation can also alternate with diarrhea. This pattern is more commonly considered as part of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). At the extreme end of the constipation spectrum is fecal impaction, a condition in which stool hardens in the rectum and prevents the passage of any stool.
The number of bowel movements generally decreases with age. Ninety-five percent of adults have bowel movements between three and 21 times per week, and this would be considered normal. The most common pattern is one bowel movement a day, but this pattern is seen in less than 50% of people. Moreover, most people are irregular and do not have bowel movements every day or the same number of bowel movements each day. Medically speaking, constipation usually is defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week. Severe constipation is defined as less than one bowel movement per week.
Common causes of constipation include pain medications (especially narcotics), dehydration, depression, stroke, diseases of the nervous system, diseases of the abdomen, colon cancer, travel, Hirschsprung's disease, and scleroderma.
Complications of constipation include hard stools, anal fissure, anal tears, rectal bleeding, hemorrhoids, abdominal discomfort, abdominal swelling, abdominal pain, bloating, and aggravation of hernias.
Related Symptoms & Signs
Other causes of constipation
- Hormone Changes of Menstrual Period
- Low-Fiber Diet
- Medications (Both Prescription and Nonprescription)
- Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
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Causes of Constipation
15 Foods That Cause Constipation
Constipation or the decrease in frequency and/or difficulty in passing stools (bowel movements) can be caused by a variety of problems. Check out these top 15 foods to avoid because they cause constipation. Some foods to avoid include, white rice and bread, caffeine, bananas, alcohol, processed foods, and frozen dinners.
Anal cancer, cancer located at the end of the large intestine, has symptoms that include anal or rectal bleeding, anal pain or pressure, anal discharge or itching, a change in bowel movements, and/or a lump in the anal region. Treatment for anal cancer may involve radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery and depends upon the stage of the cancer, its location, whether cancer is eradicated after the first treatment, and whether the patient has HIV.Anal cancer is usually curable when found localized. Early detection remains the key to long-term survival as it is in many forms of cancer.
An anal fissure is a small tear or cut in the skin lining of the anus. Pain and/or rectal bleeding during bowel movements are common symptoms of anal fissures. Treatment includes increasing liquid intake, using stool softeners, prescription medications, and surgery.
Botulism is an illness caused by a neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. There are three types of botulism: food-borne, wound, and infant. Symptoms include muscle paralysis, dry mouth, constipation, slurred speech, and blurred vision. If food-borne and wound botulism are detected early enough, they may be treated with an antitoxin.
Can Diverticulitis Cause Urinary Symptoms?
Diverticular disease and diverticulitis both affect the large intestine (bowel). Nausea and vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and bladder symptoms such as pain or burning when peeing or the desire to urinate frequently are possible symptoms.
Can You Still Poop With Impacted Feces?
Digestion is the process of breaking down food in the gut so that it is in easily absorbable forms. The food travels from the mouth to the food pipe, stomach, small bowel, and large bowel to be finally eliminated through the anus. The small bowel (small intestine) absorbs nutrients from the food.
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Colon Cancer (Colorectal Cancer) is a malignancy that arises from the inner lining of the colon. Most, if not all, of these cancers, develop from colonic polyps. Removal of these precancerous polyps can prevent colon cancer.
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Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The two types of diabetes are referred to as type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin dependent). Symptoms of diabetes include increased urine output, thirst, hunger, and fatigue. Treatment of diabetes depends on the type.
Most people with diverticulosis have few if any symptoms at all. When people do experience signs and symptoms of diverticulosis (diverticular disease) they may include abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. Diverticulitis is a condition in which diverticula in the colon rupture. The rupture results in infection in the tissues that surround the colon. Treatment methods for diverticulitis include prescription medications, and in some cases, diverticulitis surgery.
Encopresis is a type of elimination disorder in which bowel movements are passed into places other than the toilet. Children with encopresis may have symptoms that include abdominal pain, watery stools, scratching the anal area, or loss of appetite. Causes of encopresis may include a low-fiber diet, lack of exercise, fear of using unfamiliar bathrooms, or changes in bathroom routines. Treatment focuses on encouraging good bowel habits and preventing constipation.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder causing inflammation of the thyroid gland. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a type of hypothyroidism and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the US. Symptoms of Hashimoto's thyroiditis may include dry skin, fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold, excessive sleepiness, dry skin, dry coarse hair, difficulty swallowing, a lump in the front of the throat, muscle cramps, mood changes, vague aches and pains, problems concentrating, leg swelling, constipation, and depression. There is no cure for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Diet changes, natural supplements, vitamins, or other natural products will not treat Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Treatment for the autoimmune disorder is with thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which will be necessary for the rest of the person’s life.
Hirschsprung Disease (Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments)
Hirschsprung disease is an inherited condition that is present at birth (congenital) in which the nerves of parts of the large intestine are missing. The primary symptom is constipation. The diagnosis of Hirschsprung disease is made by examining the newborn or child, genetic testing, and other test results. Treatment for Hirschsprung disease is surgery, either pull-through procedure for newborns or ostomy for children. Most newborns and toddlers feel much better after surgery.Other information about Hirschsprung disease.Hirschsprung disease is a genetic, or inherited, condition. Other symptoms in newborns and toddlers are: Diarrhea, often with blood. Green or brown vomit Abdominal distension Nausea and vomiting Weight loss Sepsis Failure to thrive in infancy Intestinal obstruction Slow growth Intellectual disability The only treatment for Hirschsprung disease is surgery. Doctors and surgeons treat newborns with a pull-through procedure in which the surgeon removes the part of the large intestine that is missing nerves and connects it to the healthy part of the anus. Toddlers and children require ostomy surgery, in which part of the intestine is brought through the abdominal wall so that feces can leave the body without passing through the anus. The opening in the abdominal wall is called a stoma, and a removable external pouch is attached to it. Complications can occur with either type of surgery, and may include: Narrowing of the anus Enterocolitis Delayed toilet training Stool leaking from the anus Hirschsprung disease can be a medical emergency that requires surgery. If your newborn or child has these symptoms listed, contact your OB/GYN or Pediatrician urgently. REFERENCES: NIH; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases. "Hirschsprung Disease." Updated: Sep 2015.<https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/hirschsprung-disease> Genetic Home Reference. "Hirschsprung disease." Updated: Jun 27, 2017.<https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/hirschsprung-disease#synonyms> NCBI. "Hirschsprung Disease Overview." Updated: Oct 1, 2015.<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1439/> NIH; National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences; GARD. "Hirschsprung's disease." Updated: Jun 01, 2017.<https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6660/hirschsprungs-disease>
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Examples of Medications for Constipation
- castor oil
- glycerin rectal
- magnesium citrate
- magnesium citrate (Citrate of Magnesia, Citroma)
- magnesium hydroxide
- mineral oil
- Motegrity (prucalopride)
- Over-the-Counter Products
- Side Effects of Amitiza (lubiprostone)
- Side Effects of Miralax (polyethylene glycol)
- slippery elm
- sodium acid phosphate
- tegaserod, Zelnorm
- Trulance (plecanatide)
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