Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. You are considered constipated if you are going longer than three days without a bowel movement. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and more difficult to pass. Constipation is caused by food moving too slowly through the colon, or it can occur when the colon absorbs too much water from digested food as it forms waste products (stool).
What Causes Constipation?
- Poor bowel habits
- Ignoring the desire to have bowel movements may initiate a cycle of constipation.
- Poor Diet
Eating foods rich in animal fats (dairy products, meats, and eggs) or refined sugar but low in fiber (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables)
Constipation is common during pregnancy and may be due to several factors. Some of the following conditions produce severe pain on defecation, which may trigger a reflex spasm of the anal sphincter muscle. The spasm may delay bowel movement and decrease the desire for bowel opening in order to avoid the anal pain.
Many medications can cause constipation.
– Antacids that contain calcium carbonate (Rolaids, Mylanta, Maalox, Tums, etc.)
– Painkillers, narcotic-containing drugs, for example, may suppress bowel function.
– Iron tablets
– Antispasmodic drugs
Older adults are more likely to have constipation for the following reasons:
– Poor diet and insufficient intake of fluids
– Poor bowel habits
– Lack of exercise
- Caffeine and alcohol
These induce increased urination of water. This leads to (relative) dehydration because of an increase in water absorption from the intestine. This can in turn lead to constipation when not enough fluid is retained in the stool.
- Intestinal obstruction
Mechanical compression and interference with the normal functions of the bowel may occur in the following conditions:
– Inflammation due to diseases such as Crohn’s disease or diverticulitis
– Abdominal hernia, the intestine becomes obstructed
– Gallstones that have become wedged in the intestine
– Volvulus, twisting of the intestine upon itself
Constipation may be accompanied by other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms frequently affect the digestive tract but may also affect other body systems.
Complications that may occur with constipation
In some cases, constipation can be caused by a serious condition of the gastrointestinal tract, such as bowel obstruction. It is important to contact your health care provider if you develop persistent constipation that lasts more than a few days. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor can lower your risk of potential complications including:
Peritonitis and shock from intestinal obstruction