Do you always go when you get the urge? Did you know that holding it in and ignoring your need to go to the bathroom can lead to constipation? Constipation is when bowel movements become less frequent and difficult to pass stools. In most cases, it is treated as a symptom, not a disease and it is most often temporary and not serious. It is important to understand its causes, prevention, and treatment will help most people find relief.
Symptoms and Common Causes of Constipation
Who gets constipation?
Almost everyone at any age can experience constipation at some point in their life. It is generally triggered by poor diet, stress, lack of exercise, and underlying health conditions. are typically the causes. Older people are more likely than younger ones to experience this condition. In fact, about one-third of older adults have occasional symptoms of constipation.
Babies / Infants
Causes of constipation in babies/infants
A baby’s wee and poop change a lot from birth, one of the main causes of constipation in babies is a change in diet. A change in diet may include:
Some babies poop after every feed, and others will only poop once every few days. It is normal unless your baby doesn’t poop for up to 7 days. If your baby seems to be in pain or discomfort while pooping or if your baby has very hard and dry poop it is best to consult a pediatrician for advice.
Constipation is a common problem in children, in fact, 1 in every 20 children's visits to the doctor is because of constipation.
Causes of constipation in children
Among the common causes of constipation in children are:
Up to 38% of pregnant women get constipated at some point during pregnancy. You're most likely to get constipated in the third trimester, though constipation can happen anytime between your 1st to the 3rd trimester as well.
Causes of constipation in pregnant women
Here are some reasons why you could be constipated:
It’s always best to speak to a gynecologist if you experience prolonged bouts of constipation or pain, cramping, bloating, or gassiness.
Causes of constipation in adults
Adult men and women may suffer from constipation for different reasons, such as;
As people age, the prevalence of constipation tends to increase. For elderly living outside of the home or away from family surroundings, it is reported that 40% of older people live in communities or nursing homes and up to 60% of those in medical institutions suffer from mild to severe forms of constipation.
Fearing constipation is common among the elderly and this sometimes leads older people to depend heavily on stimulant laxatives. These are habit-forming and the bowel movements begin to depend on laxatives over time, when the natural mechanisms fail to work without the help of drugs, this can lead to a loss of normal bowel movements.
Causes of constipation in the elderly
Here are other reasons why older people get constipation. :
Drugs prescribed for several medical conditions may lead to constipation among the elderly
If suffering from urinary incontinence, they may consume lesser fluids which can increase the chance of constipation
Eating softer foods like porridge and having limited sources of fiber from fruits and vegetables also a cause
Suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's or other conditions that affect the memory
How to know the cause of your constipation?
There are plenty of reasons why you may be suffering from constipation. A full body examination is needed to identify the root cause of the problem to provide the best possible chance of recovery. There are a few ways doctors use to make this assessment:
Anorectal manometry to asses fecal incontinence and chronic constipation
Colonic transit marker study is a motility (movement) study of your colon
Dynamic MRI defecography is an imaging exam that doctors use to look at problems in the structure of the pelvic floor or problems with how these muscles are working when you move your bowels.
Colonoscopy to examine causes of signs and symptoms of intestinal or digestive conditions, including constipation
X-rays can help your doctor determine whether our intestines are blocked and whether there is stool present throughout the colon
Health screening to determine if other health conditions or diseases are causing your constipation
The Bristol stool chart is used as a tool to diagnose constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome. You could use this assessment at home too to identify your own stool consistency.
Bristol stool chart - Know how your poop should look
How to treat constipation?
Depending on the circumstances and the severity of your constipation, the doctor may recommend:
A change in your diet, to include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to increase your fiber intake
To limit high-fat, and low-fiber food
Increasing your fluid intake
Checking your medications to see if they are causing your constipation
Over-the-counter fiber supplements or stool softeners
A laxative or enema
Therapy or exercises to help release clenching your muscles when trying to poop
Adjusting your toilet posture
When to Call the Doctor?
if your baby is irritable and seems to be having stomach pain
if you see blood in your stool or in your child's stool
when your baby has constipation and develops vomiting, and its belly looks like it is bloated or filled with gas.
when constipation does not get better with treatment.
when you are experiencing abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
If you have lost your appetite
If you have sudden weight loss
Although simple lifestyle changes can eliminate some cases of constipation, it isn’t always enough to get permanent relief. Sometimes, constipation is a symptom of a serious condition. Avoid making self-diagnosis, it is best to get a professional consultation to understand your condition and get advice on the best course of treatment. Download the Doctor Anywhere App to speak to a GP or specialist from the comfort of your home before deciding on the type of treatment needed.