Constipation occurs when stools are difficult to pass. Some people are overly concerned with the frequency of their bowel movements because they have been taught that a healthy person has a bowel movement every day. This is not true. Most people pass stools anywhere from 3 times a day to 3 times a week. If your stools are soft and pass easily, you are not constipated.
Constipation is present if you have 2 or fewer bowel movements each week or you do not take laxatives and have 2 or more of the following problems at least 25% of the time:
- Straining
- Feeling that you do not completely empty your bowels
- Hard stools, or stools that look like pellets
- A feeling of being blocked up
- You cannot pass stools unless you put a finger in your rectum or use manual pressure to pass a stool.
Constipation may occur with cramping and pain in the rectum caused by the strain of trying to pass hard, dry stools. You may have some bloating and nausea. You may also have small amounts of bright red blood on the stool or on the toilet tissue, caused by bleeding hemorrhoids or a slight tearing of the anus as the stool is pushed through the anus. This should stop when the constipation is controlled.
There are three types of constipation: normal movement (transit) of stool through the intestines, slow transit constipation, and outlet delay.
Normal and slow transit constipation
Two of the most common types of constipation are normal and slow transit (functional) constipation. Lack of fiber is a common cause of functional constipation. Other causes include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Travel or other change in daily routine.
- Lack of exercise.
- Immobility caused by illness or aging.
- Medicine use.
- Overuse of laxatives.
- Pregnancy.
Constipation is sometimes a sign of another health problem, such as diabetes, hypothryoidism, or hypercalcemia.
Constipation is more common in people older than 65. People in this age group are more likely to have poor dietary habits and increased medicine use. Older adults also often have decreased muscular activity of the intestinal tract, which increases the time it takes for stool to move through the intestines. Physical problems, such as arthritis, may make sitting on the toilet uncomfortable or painful.
Constipation is also more common in rural areas, cold climates, and among the poor.
Psychological problems, such as severe anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or obsessive-complusive disorder, also can cause constipation.
Women report problems with constipation more often than men. (information by Kaiser)
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