Constipation

Constipation is difficult, painful, or infrequent bowel movements. The normal frequency of bowel movements is from three times per day to three times per week. Usually, if more than three days pass between bowel movements, the intestinal contents harden. Hard stools are difficult and painful to pass.

It is not necessary to move your bowels every day. Even if the waste products stay in the intestines for longer than three days, they will not harm the body or cause cancer.

Chart illustrating different stool consistancies.

How common is constipation?

As little as people talk about constipation one would think that no one suffers from it. Yet nothing is further from the truth! Constipation is very common. According to medical studies (Drossman in Digestive Diseases and Sciences , September, 1993), three percent of the nation's population suffer from constipation.

According to this same study, 32% of the nation's population suffer from abdominal bloating. Moreover, nearly two percent suffer from chronic abdominal pain; 11% suffer from anal or rectal pain; and, 13% suffer from difficult rectal emptying.

Who should be evaluated for constipation?

Ingesting 25-30 grams of fiber daily corrects 90-95 percent of symptoms of constipation. Anytime that constipation does not respond to increased fiber and the constipation interferes with sleep, work or the enjoyment of life, it warrants further evaluation.

Causes of Constipation

Causes of constipation can be broken down into two groups:

  1. problems outside of the colon that affect the colon; and,
  2. problems with the colon, rectum and anus.
    • Gland or Hormonal Problems – Constipation can be caused by hormonal problems such as thyroid disease.
    • Medication – Medicines can cause constipation. Pain medications, especially narcotics, antacids that contain aluminum, antispasm drugs, anticonvulsants (for epilepsy), tranquilizers, antidepressants, and iron supplements can all cause constipation.
    • Pregnancy – Hormonal changes and the weight of the full womb during pregnancy can cause constipation.
    • Nerve damage – Spinal cord injuries, spinal cord tumors, and nerve diseases can cause constipation.
    • Medical Illnesses – When people are sick their bowels may not work well. Diabetes, scleroderma, neurological diseases like Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis and other medical illnesses can affect the intestines and cause constipation.