Understanding Constipation: Symptoms, Causes, and Cure



Your digestive system, like most systems in your body is quite efficient. Within hours after your food intake, the nutrients in the food you eat is extracted and processed into the bloodstream. The waste byproduct material is prepared for disposal. This material is stored in the colon where water is removed. Within a period of one to two days, the waste is excreted through the bowels.

The regularity of your bowel movement depends on your diet, age and your daily activity. In terms of frequency of bowel movement, this regularity could be three in a day to one every three days. The longer the fecal material is stored in the colon, the harder the stool becomes and it becomes more difficult to pass. Normal stool should neither be unusually hard nor soft. Nor should it  cause you to strain to pass it.

What is Constipation?

To different people, the definition of constipation varies. To many, it simply means infrequent stools. For others, it is having hard stools and difficulty with bowel movement or straining. Still, for others, it means having a sense of incomplete emptying after defecating.

In medical terms, constipation is usually defined as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week. A severe constipation happens when the bowel movement is less than one per week. It is not an abnormality not to have bowel movement every day. There usually is no physical discomfort in not having bowel movement for two to three days. Some people just suffer from mental distress in these situations.

Constipation may be caused by the slow passage of food under digestion process through the intestine, but in most cases the slowing happens in the colon.

The popular belief that toxins accumulate in the body when bowel movement is infrequent has no medical basis. Also, the notion that constipation leads to cancer is a myth.

Symptoms of Constipation

Some symptoms of constipation are:

  • Hard, compacted or small stools that are painful or difficult to pass
  • Straining or difficulty during bowel movement
  • No bowel movement for three consecutive days
  • Lower abdominal discomfort that get relieved by bowel movements
  • Wet, diarrhea-like stool between regular bowel movements
  • Rectal bleeding or anal fissures caused by hard stools
  • Mental distress or obsession with having bowel movements

Causes of Constipation

What causes constipation?

Our active modern lifestyle is a major factor in most constipation cases. Our preoccupation with getting work done often results in the following:

  • Not enough fiber intake in foods
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Not getting enough physical exercise
  • Ignoring the urge to go to the toilet
  • Emotional and psychological stress that can contribute to the problem

Chronic constipation may also be an indication or symptoms or other health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, depression, multiple sclerosis and an underactive thyroid.

Older people, especially those with sedentary lifestyles or habits tend to have constipation more often.

Certain medications can cause constipation, such as iron supplements, narcotic-type pain killers and some blood pressure control medicines. Abuse of laxatives can also lead to constipation.

Hormonal changes, particularly high levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy may cause constipation as well.

Treatment for Constipation    

The goal of the treatment for constipation is the return of bowel movement to regularity, which is one bowel movement every two to three days and without straining. The treatment or therapy may include:

  • Dietary fiber
  • Non-stimulant laxatives
  • Suppositories
  • Enemas
  • Biofeedback training
  • Prescription medications and
  • Surgery

Laxatives, both stimulant and herbal types, should only be used as a last resort as they may cause permanent damage to the colon and may even worsen constipation.

Do not take constipation for granted. It is another important indicator that something anomalous may be happening in your body and systems. Do not just treat it when it occurs but find its underlying cause to prevent it from recurring and have a normal healthy life.