What Is Constipation?
Constipation is a difficulty in passing stools. This can mean not passing stool on a regular basis or having to strain more than usual in order to pass stools. It can also mean being unable to fully empty the bowel. This can often cause pain and discomfort. Whilst severity of the condition differs among individuals, constipation can usually be treated at home through adjusting lifestyle factors and diet. Constipation is usually a short-term condition amongst most patients, however it is sometimes a chronic condition amongst some people and can affect their daily life.
Alongside difficulty passing stool, symptoms of constipation can be accompanied by bloating or abdominal pain. As a result of constipation, stools can become unusually large or small and can be hard and lumpy.
Constipation affects people of all ages, including babies and young children. Approximately up to 1 in 3 babies and every 1 in 7 adults is experiencing constipation at any given time, however the rate can vary widely across studies. Constipation is more likely to be experienced by women than men and tends to be more common among older or pregnant patients.
Regular bowel habits can differ from person to person and symptoms can vary in both children and adults. The main symptom of constipation is difficulty or to pass stools or inability to empty the bowel completely. Other symptoms can include:
- abdominal pain and cramps
- nausea (feeling sick)
- disruption or loss of appetite
- passing stools less than three times a week
- unusually hard, lumpy or dry stools
In babies and children, additional symptoms can include:
- a general sense of unwellness
Several factors can lead to temporary constipation such as poor eating habits (a diet too low in fibre), lack of water, high stress or lack of physical activity. Delaying passing stools is also discouraged as it can make the stool harden and make it more difficult to go. Certain diseases such as hypothyroidism, or in more serious cases bowel obstruction or cancer, may be the cause of constipation. Constipation can also be caused by certain drugs, such as some antidepressants, antispasmodics or antihistamines. This is called iatrogenic constipation.
In case of occasional constipation, it is recommended to modify your diet. For example, you should try to eat more fruits and vegetables containing fibre, such as prunes or kiwis, as well as whole grains. Similarly, you should regularly drink water and avoid drinks that can irritate the colon such as alcohol or coffee. Playing sports also improves intestinal transit. If these remedies are not enough to solve the problem of constipation, your doctor may prescribe laxatives alongside dietary and lifestyle changes.