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Constipation Awareness – Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

  • December 13, 2022
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According to a gut health survey conducted by a leading pharmaceutical brand in India, more than 22% of Indian adults suffer from chronic constipation. With a higher prevalence observed in tier 1 and tier 2 metro cities. Chronic constipation is not merely observed among the adult population, it is also seen among the youth and the middle-aged population. Kolkata and Chennai are leading the survey of constipation sufferers with 28% and 26% of the total population ailing from chronic constipation.

Metabolic disorders are also the reason for increase in chronic constipation cases. Diabetics are more prone to chronic constipation than non-diabetics and similarly patients suffering from hypothyroidism are likely to develop chronic constipation over the years than those without thyroid. Unhealthy eating habits that includes the consumption of junk food and less intake of water can eventually lead to irregular bowel movements and constipation. What is concerning is that there are growing numbers of silent sufferers who don’t speak about their health condition as openly as they should and don’t take prescribed medication. Then there is the employed population of the country with desk-based job roles that are accustomed to leading a sedentary lifestyle. Lack of physical activity can also be a contributing factor that could trigger constipation.

Let’s understand what constipation is and look at the associated risk factors to know more about the illness.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is technically defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. However, the frequency with which you "go" varies greatly from person to person. Some people have bowel movements several times per day, while others only once or twice a week. Whatever your bowel movement pattern is, it is unique and normal for you - as long as you don't deviate from it too much.

Irregular bowel pattern prevents you from relieving stool more frequently and this can cause chronic constipation. Some of the defining features commonly associated with constipation include:

  • Dry and hard stools
  • Painful bowel movement and difficulty passing stool
  • A persistent feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels

How Does Constipation Happen?

Constipation occurs when your colon absorbs too much water from waste, causing the stool to become hard and difficult to push out of the body.

Nutrients are absorbed as food moves through the digestive tract and the partially digested waste moves from the small intestine and passes to the large intestine, called the colon. The colon absorbs all the water from this waste and what remains as a solid matter is called stool. If you are already experiencing constipation, then the food may move a lot more slowly than expected through the digestive tract, and this gives the colon more time to absorb water from the waste. When the stool that is depleted of water becomes hard and difficult to pass out, it causes chronic constipation.

Causes of Constipation

Constipation can happen due to various factors including, medications, lifestyle choices, pregnancy, and medical conditions.

Some of the common lifestyle causes of constipation include:

  • Consumption of foods low in fiber
  • Dehydration or low water intake
  • Lack of body movement or exercise
  • Sudden changes in regular routine – overnight travelling, irregular sleeping intervals, and food intake at odd hours
  • Eating large amounts of milk or cheese
  • Resisting the urge to empty your bowels

Symptoms of Constipation

  • Fewer than three bowel movements in a week
  • Dry, hard, or lumpy stools
  • Painful bowel movement
  • Consistent stomach ache or cramps
  • Feeling of nausea and bloating
  • Constantly feeling like you’ve not completely emptied your bowels

Medical and Diagnostic Tests to Determine the Cause of Constipation

Your doctor or healthcare provider may ask you to undergo a list of tests to determine the severity of your constipation. These tests can depend on your symptoms, medical history, and existing health condition.

Lab Tests – Blood and urine tests can reveal symptoms of anemia, hypothyroidism, and diabetes. Similarly, a stool sample can identify signs of infection, inflammation, and cancer.

Imaging Tests – Some of the tests that could help determine other factors associated with the cause of cancer includes – CT (Computed Tomography), MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or lower gastrointestinal tract series.

Colonoscopy – Sigmoidoscopy or Colonoscopy – This test offers an internal view of your colon with a scope. During the course of this procedure, a small sample of the tissue may be collected and taken for cancer screening. Other problems and any detectable polyps will be removed during the procedure.

Colorectal Transit Studies - These tests involve ingesting a small dose of a radioactive substance, either as a pill or as a meal, and then monitoring how long and how quickly the substance advances through your intestines.

Bowel Function Tests - Tests to determine how well the anus and rectum hold and release stool may be ordered by your healthcare provider. These evaluations include a certain type of x-ray (defecography), done to rule out causative factors of outlet dysfunction constipation, and the insertion of a small balloon into the rectum (balloon expulsion test and anorectal manometry).

Self-Care Tips to Prevent Constipation

You can treat most cases of moderate to severe constipation at home. Self-care begins with an inventory of what you eat and drink, followed by adjustments as needed. Some suggestions for relieving constipation usually involve:

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water every day
  • Avoid caffeine-containing beverages and alcohol, as these can dehydrate you
  • Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods. Reduce your intake of high-fat foods such as meat, eggs, and cheese.
  • Eat prunes, bran, and any high-fiber cereal
  • Maintain a food diary and eliminate foods that constipate you
  • Get plenty of exercise and indulge in some form of physical activity
  • Examine how you sit on the toilet. Elevating your feet, leaning back, or squatting may help you have a bowel movement more easily

Medical Disclaimer

Any medical information referred to in or through our blog is provided as information only and is not intended:

  • as medical diagnosis or treatment
  • to replace consultation with a qualified medical practitioner

We highly recommend you consult the medical professionals empanelled with us for specific advice about your situation.

Remember to discuss your bowel movements and any queries or concerns with your doctor in an open and honest manner. Constipation can be a temporary problem, a long-term issue, or a symptom of a more serious condition. Take precautions. Consult your doctor, all the more so if you've noticed any changes in your bowel pattern or if your bowels are controlling your quality of life.