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constipation

overview

Most people have trouble going to the bathroom every once in a while. Oftentimes, this is due to constipation. Constipation happens when stool moves slowly through the digestive system, becoming hard and dry. As a result, it’s difficult to have a bowel movement.

symptoms

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • Fewer than 3 bowel movements a week
  • Dry, hard-to-pass stools
  • Straining during a bowel movement
  • The feeling of not completely emptying your bowels

diagnosis

Usually, constipation isn't serious. If you can’t get relief on your own, have symptoms that happen frequently or are concerned about your symptoms (for example, if you notice blood in your stool, have thin pencil-like stools, have severe abdominal or rectal pain, lose weight without trying, or have constipation and diarrhea alternately), it’s important to see your doctor, because these can be signs of another medical condition.

Your doctor will examine you and may order tests, including:

  • Sigmoidoscopy to examine the lower colon and rectum. A flexible tube is inserted in the anus to see inside the digestive system.
  • Colonoscopy to examine the colon. A flexible tube is inserted in the anus to see inside the colon.
  • X-rays of the ano-rectal area. The rectum is filled with a paste and X-rays are taken as it exits the body. This test measures how well the body is eliminating waste.
  • Barium enema X-ray. An enema coats the lining of the bowls with a dye (barium), which helps show the rectum, colon and part of the intestine on X-rays.
  • Ano-rectal manometry checks how well the muscles are working to produce bowel movements. 
  • Colorectal transit study to check how well food moves through the colon. A patient swallows a capsule with markers that show up on X-rays taken over a few days as the capsule moves through the digestive system.

services & treatment

Treatment for constipation usually includes eating a high-fiber diet (20 to 35 grams a day) of whole grains, vegetables and fruits; avoiding processed foods; getting more exercise to stimulate the bowels; and drinking lots of water. 

If these lifestyle changes don’t offer relief, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter products like fiber supplements, stimulant laxatives or stool softeners, saline laxatives, or lubricants and osmotics that help stool pass more easily. Your doctor may also prescribe medication or perform a manual maneuver to relieve constipation, breaking up the stool and then administering an enema. Very rarely, surgery may be required to remove the part of the colon that is causing constipation.

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