What is Constipation?

Constipation commonly refers to infrequent bowel movements, but it also applies to a range of other symptoms: a decrease in the volume or weight of stool; the need to strain in order to have a bowel movement; a sense of incomplete evacuation; and the need for enemas, suppositories or laxatives in order to remain regular.

The number of bowel movements considered to be normal range from as few as 3 times a week to as many as 3 times a day. Some people may go a week or longer without experiencing discomfort or harmful effects.

About 80% of us suffer from constipation at some time during our lives. Brief periods of constipation are normal. However, if you have fewer than 3 bowel movements per week on an ongoing basis, then constipation is a likely diagnosis.

What causes constipation?

There may be several causes, including inadequate intake of both fiber and fluid. Constipation may be aggravated by travel, pregnancy or change in diet. And, in some people, it may occur as the result of repeatedly ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement. Other, more serious causes include narrowing of the colon or growths in the bowel; certain thyroid diseases, such as under active thyroid; plus disorders of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. Also, many medications – including pain killers, antidepressants, blood pressure medicine, iron or calcium supplements and antacids containing aluminum – can cause constipation. That’s why it’s important to talk to us if constipation persists for several weeks – and sooner if blood appears in your stool.

What is the treatment for constipation?

The best treatment for constipation is based upon a clear understanding of its underlying cause. Most patients are treated successfully by adding high fiber foods like bran, shredded wheat, whole grain breads and certain fruits and vegetables to their diet, along with increased fluids.

Fiber supplements that contain indigestible fiber, such as bran, may provide many benefits beyond relieving constipation. They may help to lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of developing colon polyps, and help prevent symptomatic hemorrhoids. These supplements can take several weeks to reach their full effectiveness, but they are neither harmful nor habit forming.

To effectively treat constipation, a careful evaluation, including a thorough history and physical, biochemical tests and likely endoscopic or radiographic tests is performed. After careful consideration of the findings, we will design a personalized approach to best address your needs and symptoms.