Constipation – the difficulty to have a bowel movement – is a common digestive complaint with which people report to gastrointestinal clinics. It is a common symptom and not a disease actually. The condition and experience differs from person to person. Some may complain of constipation when they experience infrequent bowel opening while others may use this term to express symptoms like straining during defecation or having incomplete evacuation.
When does one call it constipation?
It is not necessary to have daily bowel movements to consider it “regular”. A normal range is anywhere between three times a day to three times a week! Anything less than three defecations (evacuations) per week is what is medically defined as constipation. You can be certain of constipation, if in at least twelve weeks in the precedding six months, you have two or more incidences of any of the following complaints:
- Lumpy or hard stools.
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation.
- Sensation of ano-rectal obstruction.
- Incidences of manual evacuation of faeces.
What causes constipation?
As food passes through the digestive tract, nutrients and water are absorbed. The remaining matter passes through the intestines. A number of factors can cause delay in passing through the intestines, leading to constipation. Eating a high fibre diet, bulk forming laxatives and drinking enough fluids, help to move the stools through the intestines and make the stools softer.
How much fibre should one take?
On an average, a person who is 50-years old should consume 50 grams fibre per day. This comes by adding two cups of fruit and two cups of vegetables to the regular diet. While adding fibre to the diet, start slowly and increase gradually so that you avoid gas distension and bloating.
Should one use laxatives?
Laxatives are not meant for long term use – except bulk forming laxatives like oat bran, Psyllium, Polycarbofill and Methyl cellulose. These are mixed with fruit juices so that they taste better.
Do bulk forming laxatives contain side effects?
Yes. They may cause gas, bloating and cramps, if taken too much initially. So increase the intake slowly and also with it, the intake of water has to go up.
Is mineral oil a good laxative?
No. It should not be used regularly. Long term use can cause deficiency of vitamins. A, D, E and K. This has a role in postoperative period to avoid strain.
Should one try enemas?
Try and avoid enemas. They are not the answer for regular bowel movement. Let our bodies work naturally. What are the other causes of constipation?
- Diabetes with autonomic bowel.
- Drugs which cause smooth muscle relaxation.
- Certain anti-hypertensive drugs.
- Anti-Parkinsonism drugs.
When to consult the doctor?
- When constipation is new and unusual.
- When blood is noted in the stools.
- When abdominal pain is experienced.
- When experiencing post defecation anal pain.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Constipation unrelieved despite regular home management by diet.
- Exercise and lifestyle modification.
7 Tips To Prevent Constipation
- Do not resist or ignore the urge to have a bowel movement
- Set aside some time to have bowel movement, preferably after filling the stomach, which initiates the gastro-colic reflex
- Eat more fibre
- Drink plenty of fluids (eight glasses a day is a good quantity) – including water, tea, soup, juices and other drinks
- Limit food that are high in fat and sugar like sweets, cheese, butter, chocolates and processed foods – as these food stuff cause constipation
- Exercise more often
- Use laxatives in moderation