What is it?
Constipation simply means infrequent passage of hard stools. A more detailed definition is having two or more of the following for at least 12 weeks: passage of stools for less than 3 times in a week, straining to pass stool on more than 1 out of every 4 times, passage of hard stools, incomplete emptying and sensation of a blocked anus.
Going by this, it means that constipation affects more than 1 in 5 of the population. Women and the elderly are most commonly affected.
What could cause it?
There are several things that could cause constipation, and some of the common ones are:
- Inadequate fibre intake
- Immobility and inadequate exercise
- Drugs like opiates (pain killers)
- Spinal cord damage
- Parkinson’s disease
- Intestinal obstruction.
What are the symptoms?
- Infrequent passage of hard stool
- Straining to pass faeces
- Feeling of incomplete bowel emptying
- Sensation of a blocked anus
- Abdominal bloating and/or discomfort
- Pain around the anus
- Malaise and fatigue
- Bad taste in the mouth
You should also see your doctor if you:
• Have a sudden change in your bowel habits
• Lose weight for no obvious reason
• See blood in your stools.
These can be pointers to more serious conditions.
Most people don’t need any tests for constipation. Tests will only be necessary if the doctor suspects some more serious causes for the symptoms.
What treatments work?
Any underlying cause is treated if found.
In some people, the main focus is directed to increasing the fibre content of the diet and increasing fluid intake.
The use of laxatives is usually restricted to severe cases. There are several types of laxatives, and they work in different ways. The doctor should choose the most suitable one for each individual.
People who have structural problems causing their constipation may benefit from surgery.