Almost everyone will experience constipation at some point in their lifetime. The condition affects people of all ages and is defined as having dry and hard bowel movements, or going fewer than three times a week. Constipation is more like a symptom that occurs when the colon has absorbed too much water, thus resulting in hard feces that are difficult to expel.
Rather than serious, the condition is more annoying and makes you feel uncomfortable, however, it can be quite troubling for children and elderly people.
From poor diets to an underlying medical problem, constipation causes are numerous and sometimes difficult to identify. But most of the time, constipation occurs when your gut is trying to tell you that is doesn’t agree with your lifestyle. Stress and other conditions may also lead to constipation, however, according to MedicalNewsToday, the most common causes are:
Many tend to forget that the lack of fiber in the diet, as well as fluid intake, is the main cause of constipation. Consequently, people should include in their diets foods that are rich in fiber like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In turn, fiber will promote bowel movements and prevent constipation.
Lack of exercise
Physical inactivity can easily lead to constipation, especially in older adults. Although the reason is yet unknown, experts believe that physical activity keeps the metabolism high which in turn helps the processes in the body happen faster. And because older adults tend to be more inactive, they are more likely to suffer from constipation.
Irritable bowel syndrome
People with irritable bowel syndrome are prone to getting constipation much more frequently than others. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a long-term gastrointestinal disorder which causes bloating, abdominal pain, mucus in stools, irregular bowel habits, and diarrhea which swings over to constipation. Currently, there is no cure for IBS and while it can bring discomfort, normally, the condition doesn’t lead to serious complications.
Many medications can contribute to constipation, including the following:
- narcotic (opioid) pain drugs including codeine (Tylenol), oxycodone (Percocet), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- antidepressants including amitriptyline (Elavil) and imipramine (Tofranil)
- anticonvulsants including phenytoin (Dilantin) and carbamazepine (Tegretol) iron supplements
- calcium channel blocking drugs including diltiazem (Cardizem) and nifedipine (Procardia)
- aluminum-containing antacids including Amphojel and Basaljel
- diuretics including chlorothiazide (Diuril)
Some diseases and conditions
In rare cases, constipation can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. These conditions can slow down the movement of feces through the colon, rectum, or anus, and include:
- Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Multiple sclerosis, stroke, spinal cord injuries, and chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction.
- Systemic diseases like lupus, scleroderma, amyloidosis which affect many organs and tissues, or the whole body.
- Endocrine and metabolic conditions like diabetes, uremia, hypercalcemia, poor glycemic control, and hyperthyroidism.
- Colon or rectum problems like tumors which may block or squeeze the digestive system.
About 40% of women suffer from constipation during pregnancy due to the hormonal changes that come with the condition which make women more predisposed to constipation. Additionally, during pregnancy, the uterus might compress the intestine which in turn, slows down the passage of food.
Changing your routine, especially when traveling, can mess up your digestive system which can often lead to constipation. Having meals at different times, going to the toilet at different times, changing your sleeping schedule, all these contribute to constipation.
How to treat and prevent constipation?
Changing your lifestyle is the easiest and fastest way to treat and prevent constipation, however, according to Healthline, you might also try the following:
- drink plenty of water and limit alcohol consumption
- eat more fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and cut down low-fiber foods like meat, milk, cheese, and processed foods
- be more physically active and exercise every day for at least 30 minutes, be it by walking, biking, or swimming.
- don’t delay the urge to pass stool
- consider adding probiotics to your diet
*If these tips don’t work, then it’s best to talk to your doctor who might recommend medications or surgery.
Most cases of constipation are not serious and can be easily treated, but ultimately, the treatment for constipation will depend on what’s causing the problem.
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