From a medical standpoint, constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Most people have constipation on occasion, but some people live with chronic constipation, which occurs when they experience infrequent bowel movements or trouble passing stools for periods of several weeks or more.
There are numerous possible causes of constipation, and in some cases, a person cannot determine the cause. Usually, it is a result of waste moving particularly slowly though the digestive tract, causing it to harden.
In many cases, constipation is the result of avoidable habits, such as lack of exercise, insufficient water intake, and not consuming enough fiber. In rare situations, more serious causes like nerve damage, Parkinson’s disease, colon cancer, or a bowel obstruction are responsible for constipation.
Does constipation mean I have a serious medical condition?
Constipation can usually be resolved through lifestyle changes, such as getting plenty of exercise, drinking enough water, adding more fiber to your diet, and avoiding holding in bowel movements. If these strategies do not relieve constipation, or you find that your constipation lasts more than three months, you may have an underlying medical condition. A doctor can help you to determine the cause of chronic constipation and an appropriate course of treatment.
How will a doctor treat constipation?
If there is no underlying medical issue causing constipation, a doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications. If constipation still does not improve, you may take prescription medications. Surgery may be necessary in extreme cases, and if there is an underlying medical problem, treating this condition may relieve constipation.
Is constipation dangerous?
Occasional constipation is normal and typically does not lead to serious problems. Most cases of constipation can be relieved through lifestyle changes, but in rare cases, you may experience complications from constipation, such as hemorrhoids, tears in the anus, or stool impaction in the intestines. If constipation is ongoing and does not improve through dietary and lifestyle changes, a doctor can provide guidance to reduce your risk of these complications.
- “Sometimes I feel like I am straining to try to have a bowel movement.”
- “I feel like I am not able to have a complete bowel movement, and I sometimes have to press on my stomach to be able to go to the bathroom.”
- “I only have a bowel movement once or twice per week, and when I do, the stool is hard.”