Most people experience occassional constipation. Constipation isn’t just the inability to have a bowel movement, and includes the difficulty associated with bowel movements. Travel, inactivity, illness, and certain over the counter medications taken “as needed” commonly result in short-term or acute constipation. Constipation lasting longer than three months is considered chronic constipation. Chronic constipation should be treated by a doctor to prevent health complications.
Clear communication is essential to working with doctors, but the general public often has only a rudimentary understanding of medical terms - including constipation. There is often a gap between the physician and the patient’s perception of constipation which can lead to confusion. (1, 2, 7, 10) A study of people who thought they had constipation showed that only a third actually fit the criteria for constipation, while the rest actually had Irritable Bowel Syndrome or other gastrointestinal disorders. (9) So what are the criteria for constipation?
If you have two or more of these symptoms, you may have constipation: (Rome IV)
If these symptoms last three consecutive months, your constipation may classified as chronic constipation.
You don’t need to have a daily bowel movement to be healthy. Normal bowel function is different for everyone. Normal stool elimination varies from three times daily to three times weekly. This means that some people have a bowel movement every day or multiple times per day while others can skip an entire day, and both cases are considered normal. Even if you normally have a bowel movement every day and miss a day, that’s normal. If you find yourself going more than three times per day or less than three times per week, then you should see your doctor. (7, 10)
Ideal stools are “like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft,” or “like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.” Ideal stools are easy to pass and don’t require any straining or pushing. (11)
There are a wide variety of reasons you might become constipated. Diets low in fiber and with low fluid intake can cause constipation, as can a sedentary lifestyle. Constipation is also a side effect of medications including opiates, antacids, and some antidepressants or blood pressure medications. You can become constipated from prolonged use of laxatives or ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement. You might become constipated if certain pelvic floor or abdominal muscles aren’t able to relax or work together properly. Even health conditions including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, anorexia, and hypothyroidism can cause constipation. Changes in life or daily routine including aging, pregnancy, and travel can all cause constipation, too. Problems with the colon and rectum including scar tissue and diverticulosis. Problems with intestinal function such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, idiopathic (of unknown origin) constipation, and functional constipation. Poor dietary habits and lifestyle can lead to functional constipation, when the bowel is healthy but not working properly. In short, constipation can come from many different sources, and your doctor can help you find or rule out what might be causing it. (5,7,8)
Besides being uncomfortable, complications of chronic constipation can be very serious, even requiring surgery:
You should see your doctor if you experience any of the following: (4, 6, 7)
Constipation is often an embarrassing problem that is hard to discuss with friends and family, but your doctor is there for you and can offer a variety of treatments and solutions that work for you. The first step is to gain a better understanding of the problem, and I hope this article has helped you do just that. At Fusion Wellness Therapy we can offer support and treatment for constipation as well as a wide variety of pelvic floor issues and concerns.
Check back soon for upcoming articles on identifying the cause of constipation, treatments and self-care for constipation.
**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor.