Constipation occurs when one has infrequent or uncomfortable bowel movements (i.e. straining for a long time). It is a very common condition affecting people of all ages.
"Normal" frequencies of bowel movements can range between 3x a week to 3x a day, depending on the individual, as long as it is relatively consistent and comfortable.
It’s important to note that constipation is a symptom, not a disease in itself. Get assessed by a colorectal doctor should you require a more in-depth evaluation and treatment.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CONSTIPATION?
You haven’t had a bowel movement at least 3x in the past week
Your stools are hard, large and dry, or lumpy
You are usually straining in pain for a long time while having a bowel movement
You may experience a stomach ache, bloating or nausea
COMMON CAUSES OF CONSTIPATION?
Not eating enough fibre in one’s diet; eating too much fatty meats and sugary treats.
Not drinking enough water; as water is needed to aid in digestion and moving waste along.
Lack of exercise or prolonged inactivity (such as after surgery, or disability).
Frequently holding one’s bowels when the urge is present. This causes more water to be extracted from the stools, and eventually causes the body to become desensitised to normal signals to have a bowel movement.
Medical issues that cause constipation or affect the muscles and nerves controlling bowel movements. This includes multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, intestinal obstruction, piles, rectal tumours, and so on.
Some medications may have constipation as a side effect; such as certain antidepressants, antacids and narcotics.
Older age can make constipation more likely, due to reduced intestinal muscle contractions.
WHY SHOULD I GET CONSTIPATION TREATED?
Not only will doing so make your quality of life much better, it can also prevent certain complications from arising.
Possible complications arising from chronic constipation includes: piles (haemorrhoids), anal fissures, rectal prolapse, or even faecal impaction – all of which may require surgery to treat.
WHEN SHOULD I SEE A DOCTOR?
If you have done all you can to alleviate your constipation (e.g. staying active, well-hydrated, eating a high-fibre diet), definitely get checked out by a colorectal doctor to determine if there is an underlying cause which can be treated as soon as possible.
Nobody should suffer in silence from constipation, which is a very treatable condition if managed correctly. Treatment is usually conservative in nature, comprising a combination of lifestyle and dietary changes, medications and therapies. Surgery is rarely needed in the majority of cases. Should there be underlying medical conditions present, those will be treated accordingly as well.