Constipation means that you have bowel movements that are less frequent than usual. Stools often become very hard and difficult to pass.
Constipation is very common. At some point in life it affects almost everyone. Since everyone's bowel habits are different, what is constipation to one person may not be to another. Your healthcare provider may do tests to diagnose constipation. It depends on what he or she finds when evaluating you.
Symptoms of constipation include:
Painful bowel movements
Itching, swelling, bleeding, or pain around the anus
Constipation can have many causes. These include:
Diet low in fiber
Too much dairy
Not drinking enough liquids
Lack of exercise or physical activity. This is especially true for older adults.
Changes in lifestyle or daily routine, including pregnancy, aging, work, and travel
Frequent use or misuse of laxatives
Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement or delaying it until later
Medicines, such as certain prescription pain medicines, iron supplements, antacids, certain antidepressants, and calcium supplements
Diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, bowel obstructions, stroke, diabetes, thyroid disease, Parkinson disease, hemorrhoids, and colon cancer
Potential complications of constipation can include:
Rectal bleeding from hemorrhoids or anal fissures (skin tears)
Dependency on laxatives
Bowel obstruction or perforation
All treatment should be done after talking with your healthcare provider. This is especially true if you have another medical problems, are taking prescription medicines, or are an older adult. Treatment most often involves lifestyle changes. You may also need medicines. Your healthcare provider will tell you which will work best for you. Follow the advice below to help avoid this problem in the future.
These lifestyle changes can help prevent constipation:
Diet. Eat a high-fiber diet, with fresh fruit and vegetables, and reduce dairy intake, meats, and processed foods
Fluids. It's important to get enough fluids each day. Drink plenty of water when you eat more fiber. If you are on diet that limits the amount of fluid you can have, talk about this with your healthcare provider.
Regular exercise. Check with your healthcare provider first.
Take any medicines as directed. Some laxatives are safe to use only every now and then. Others can be taken on a regular basis. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.
Prescription pain medicines can cause constipation. If you are taking this kind of medicine, ask your healthcare provider if you should also take a stool softener.
Medicines you may take to treat constipation include:
Follow up with your healthcare provider if symptoms don't get better in the next few days. You may need to have more tests or see a specialist.
Call 911 if any of these occur:
Stiff, rigid abdomen that is severely painful to touch
Fainting or loss of consciousness
Rapid heart rate
Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
Fever over 100.4°F (38°C)
Failure to resume normal bowel movements
Pain in your abdomen or back gets worse
Nausea or vomiting
Swelling in your abdomen
Blood in the stool
Black, tarry stool
Involuntary weight loss