Constipation is considered chronic if a person has infrequent bowel movements or difficulty in passing stool for several weeks. Generally, having fewer than 3 motions in a week is considered to be a sign of constipation, along with excessive straining on the toilet.
While being constipated once in a while is normal, chronic constipation interferes with the daily tasks.
Symptoms of Constipation
Here are the signs and symptoms associated with chronic constipation:
- Fewer than three bowel movements in a week
- Lumpy, dry or hard stools
- Having to strain to pass stools
- Feeling bloated even after a motion
- Feeling that the bowel is not empty
In case you experience two or more of the symptoms mentioned above for 3 months, you might be suffering from chronic constipation.
Causes of Constipation
The primary reason behind constipation is the slower gut transit rate. Gut transit rate is the time taken by food to travel through the digestive tract and is influenced by a number of factors, including water and fiber. If the gut transit rate is low, the stool is not expelled effectively from the body as it becomes dry and hard.
Even problems with the pelvic muscles, like the inability to relax the muscles or dyssynergia (lack of coordination in the muscles), leads to constipation. Also, conditions like diabetes, pregnancy, hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid), hyperparathyroidism (overactive parathyroid) can upset the normal rhythm of the body and pose some difficulty in bowel movements.
There can be some other reasons as well, including:
- Anal Fissures – Tiny, painful tears around the anal opening
- Bowel Obstruction – A blockage in the intestines
- Bowel Stricture – Colon narrowing
- Rectocele – Rectum bulging through the vaginal back wall
- Cancer – Colorectal cancer can also be a cause of chronic constipation
- Autonomic Neuropathy – Damage to important nerves that control body functions
- Multiple Sclerosis – As MS slows the transmission of signals between the spinal cord and the brain, the signals sent to induce motions may become disrupted
- Stroke – Stroke recovery can affect bowel movement
- Spinal Cord Injury – Neurological issues can affect the gut and cause the rectum to contract
- Parkinson’s disease – Improper functioning of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) can give rise to constipation in those suffering from Parkinson’s
How to Prevent Constipation?
Increasing physical activity and changing diet can help treat or prevent constipation in the long run. You can also use the following tips:
- Limit alcohol consumption and caffeine as these drinks dehydrate the body
- Drink 3-4 liters of unsweetened, decaffeinated fluids, like water, to keep yourself hydrated
- Increase your fiber intake by adding fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, prunes, whole grains, etc. You should ideally consume 20-35 grams of fiber each day.
- Reduce the number of processed foods, dairy, meat and other high-fat or low fiber items
- Physical exercise can help with constipation. 30 minutes of workout for 5 days a week can help increase the gut transit rate as well.
- Whenever you get the urge to relieve yourself, do not delay unnecessarily. Waiting too long can make your stool harder.
- Fiber supplements along with water can help reduce the chances of developing constipation as well.
- Limit the use of laxatives. In fact, using laxatives for more than two weeks without the recommendation of your doctor can complicate your constipation even further. Overuse of laxatives can lead to constipation itself.
- Consider consuming probiotics, such as those found in kefir and yogurt,
The diagnosis and treatment of constipation depends on its cause, which in many cases is not found. However, if your constipation is due to old age or physical inactivity, you can employ the tips mentioned above. Also, do discuss your options with your doctor before taking medicines or laxatives.