Constipation is one of the most frequent gastrointestinal complaints in the United States today. There are over four million Americans that will have bouts of frequent constipation this year. The people who suffer from constipation at higher numbers are those aged sixty-five or older and women.

Many women will become constipated while pregnant and it is common to be constipated after delivery of the baby. An older person may become constipated due to lack of activity, reduced fluid intake and the increased use of medications.

A lot of people will define constipation as not being able to have a bowel movement every day. But medical professionals do not consider it constipation unless three or more days have passed without a bowel movement. The normal range of number of bowel movement is between twice a day and every other day. However, those individuals who eat the recommended amount of fiber and drink enough fluids will have a bowel movement at least every day and possibly twice daily.

When a person is constipated their stools will be small, hard, dry and very difficult to eliminate. A person that is suffering from constipation may find if very painful to have a bowel movement. These people may feel bloated and feel like they have a full bowel.

Constipation is a symptom and not a disease and is easily treated in most situations. The causes of constipation can include not getting enough fiber, lack of physical activity, dehydration and ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement. For some people, their main cause of constipation may be laxative abuse. When laxatives are used to excess, it can do damage to the nerve endings in the colon and make it almost impossible to have a bowel movement under normal conditions.

There are a few diseases that can cause constipation. These conditions will include neurological conditions, metabolic condition and endocrine disorders. These diseases can slow the rate of movement of the stool through the colon, rectum and anus. This results in stools that are hard and difficult to pass.

The treatment of constipation would certainly depend on the cause, duration and the severity of the condition. But in most cases, constipation can be easily treated.

People that have mild constipation can overcome this problem through simple dietary changes. A diet that provides twenty to thirty-five grams of fiber per day will help the body to form soft bulky stools for easier elimination. A dietician can provide information on what foods to eat to increase the amount of fiber in your daily diet.

Increasing activity and increasing water intake can help with constipation. Water and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices will keep you from becoming dehydrated. It is also very important that you make time to have a bowel movement. Many people are so busy they will ignore the urge to go. When you ignore the urge to have a bowel movement the stool stays in the large intestines longer and has more water removed while it stays there. This makes the stool harder and more difficult to pass.

If your constipation does not respond to the changes in your diet and activity levels your doctor may recommend the use of laxatives for a very limited time. Long-term use of laxatives can increase your chances of becoming constipated and will cause problems with the intestines leaking bacteria and viruses into the bloodstream.


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Constipation

MayoClinic: Constipation

University of Michigan Health System: Constipation

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