Chronic constipation may need the intervention of a medical doctor and yet many people are embarrassed to go to their doctor for what they feel should be a private and easily treated matter. The truth is, many cases of chronic constipation are caused by medical conditions and if left untreated can lead to severe health conditions and even death. Doctors have a variety of chronic constipation treatments to choose from and even procedures that can be used if necessary.
What is Chronic Constipation?
Constipation is the inability to have a bowel movement for a period of time. However, the time period that defines chronic constipation varies from person to person. Everyone has a different bowel schedule and so it is important that people know what their normal bowel routine is and thus be able to identify when it is off schedule and constipation is the cause.
Some people may have a bowel movement once or twice daily while others may have one every other day. In addition to knowing what normal frequency is, everyone should be aware of their normal stools and know when they are developing harder stools that are more difficult to pass. This is a common sign of constipation as well. If constipation reaches the chronic stage it may be necessary to see a doctor to determine what should be done to restore the bowels to their normal function.
In the beginning the doctor may recommend changes in the diet to help facilitate bowel movements. The doctor will most likely provide information on diet and lifestyle changes that should help get bowel movements back to normal. Some of the most often recommended changes include the following.
- Diet: A diet high in fiber is conducive to normal bowel movements. It is recommended that at least 20 to 35 grams of fiber be included in the daily diet to help the formation of soft stools that are easy for the body to pass. Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and grains. It can also be added through the addition of wheat germ or phylum husk. Processed foods, meats and cheeses should be limited.
- Fluids: Plenty of fluids should be included in the daily diet. At least 8 glasses of water should be included in the daily diet. Water and other liquids assist the body in keeping stools soft which in turn makes them easier to expel from the body.
- Exercise: Exercise has been proven to stimulate the intestinal tract and help with defecation.
- Training and Time: Many people have found that setting aside time to have a bowel movement and going the same time every day helps train their bowels to move. It is also important to go to the bathroom anytime the urge strikes, holding it back can lead to constipation.
Doctors try to avoid laxatives as much as possible as they can be habit forming. However, there are some laxatives that they will prescribe for use when diet and exercise are not working. There are many types of laxatives and supplements that doctors can choose from and typically they choose the least harsh when prescribing them. The various types of laxatives available include:
- Fiber: These are laxatives that are derived from fiber and include such names as Metamucil, FiberCon and more.
- Lubricants: These are stool softeners and can be suppositories or mineral oil that is ingested.
- Stool softener pills: These pills help prevent the colon from dehydrating which causes constipation.
- Saline laxatives: This type of laxative uses saline to pull water into the colon in order to help the stool pass. Milk of magnesia is a saline laxative.
- Stimulants: This type of laxative causes contractions in the colon which then cause the body to pass the stools. This is the main type of laxative to avoid as the body can become addicted to the laxative.
Doctors try to use diet and exercise to help their patients get their bowel movements back to normal. If necessary, they can have them try laxatives; however, in the event that laxatives do not work, there are more aggressive medical techniques that can be used.
If diet, exercise and laxatives do not solve the chronic constipation, there are more aggressive medical techniques that can be used, such as manual manipulation or surgical procedures. Manual manipulation is typically done to remove a blockage or impaction that is preventing stools from passing through and out of the body. Surgical procedures include removing part of the colon that is causing the problem so that normal bowel movements can resume. These are typically considered a last resort when nothing else has worked.
Medical treatment for chronic constipation is often needed to provide relief from chronic constipation and knowing this makes it possible to get that relief and stop the suffering sooner than later.