Most people don’t like to discuss their bowel movements and other bodily functions; however, if constipation becomes a chronic problem, there can be many health problems that arise as a result. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of chronic constipation and when a doctor should be consulted.
The first ting to note is that there is one definition of normal when it comes to defining frequency of bowel movements. Everybody’s body is different and what is normal for one person might be abnormal for the next. The only thing that can be defined is what a normal stool should be and then use that as a gauge. Normal stools should not be hard or lumpy; rather they should be formed and slightly soft. This allows them to pass through the bowels without straining. If this is not the case or the bowel movements suddenly change, a doctor should be consulted.
Common Signs of Constipation
It is important to recognize the signs of constipation so that a medical doctor can determine if there is something wrong with the bowels that need to be medically treated. While it is true that everyone’s bowel movements are different, there are certain symptoms that cannot be overlooked. Some of these include:
- Reduced bowel movements: The frequency of bowel movements varies from person to person; however, a person should know their own body and how often their bowels move. Once the realization occurs that the bowels are not moving as often as they should, this should be considered a symptom of constipation.
- Harder than normal stools: Again, this is going to be unique to each individual. However, when it becomes obvious that the stools are harder than normal, constipation is most likely the culprit.
- Straining and difficulty having a bowel movement: If passing stools becomes difficult and staining is involved in having a bowel movement, constipation should be considered and a doctor consulted if this lingers.
- Incomplete emptying of bowels: If, after emptying the bowels, the body still feels as though it needs to be emptied, then constipation is the culprit. The feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowels is an uncomfortable feeling.
- Alternating diarrhea and constipation: Chronic constipation can cause the bowels to go through periods of diarrhea and constipation. The diarrhea is not truly diarrhea but more of a backup of fecal matter that is able to get around the obstruction that is causing the constipation and thus appear to be diarrhea.
- Bloating: Chronic constipation can cause bloating due the body not emptying the contents of the stomach as is should. This bloating can be uncomfortable and cause swelling.
These symptoms alone are not indicative of chronic constipation. In order to be considered chronic, the symptoms must have been longstanding or at least longer than what is normal for the person that has not had a bowel movement. However, if the constipation has bleeding or severe pain, a doctor should be consulted regardless of the timeframe.
Constipation is typically a symptom of another medical condition, not necessarily the condition. A visit to the doctor will be needed if the constipation starts suddenly or doesn’t respond to typical home remedies such as adding fiber to the diet or taking a laxative.
The doctor will ask a series of questions and possibly do tests in order to determine what is causing the constipation. Some of the typical causes include obstruction of the bowels, muscle control, medical illnesses and more.
If an obstruction is the cause of the constipation, the doctor can manually remove the impaction or prescribe an enema. Once the impaction is removed, bowel movements should revert to normal.
If an illness is the cause of the constipation, the doctor will first have to treat the illness in order for the constipation to go away. This can vary from person to person and case to case.
Many medications can cause constipation, such as pain killers. Individuals who have to take these medications for long periods of time may need to include additional fiber in their diet in order to keep their bowels moving regularly.
Doctors can use many different tools to determine what is causing constipation. Today, there are microscopic cameras that can be swallowed in a pill. These cameras record the entire digestion process and show doctors what is occurring in the body. This allows them to get to the root of the constipation and treat it appropriately.
Chronic constipation is an uncomfortable condition that can affect everyday routines. Eating becomes near impossible due to the overly full feeling in the stomach; straining to pass stools can cause tears in the skin tissue which is known as hemorrhoids and the pain can be severe. The family doctor should be consulted if constipation lasts for more than a few days and doesn’t respond to normal treatment.