Abdomen | Gastroenterology | Constipation (Symptom)
Constipation refers to bowel movements that are infrequent or hard to pass. Constipation is the condition characterized by fewer than three stools per week and severe constipation as less than one stool per week. Constipation may also refer to hard stools, difficulty passing stools, or a sense of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement. Constipation is usually harmless. It also requires an immediate assessment if it is accompanied by worrisome symptoms such as rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea and vomiting, and involuntary loss of weight.
It is important to distinguish acute constipation from chronic constipation.
The most common cause is insufficient fiber in the diet, because fiber assists the propulsion of waste matter through the colon. A number of factors can cause an intestinal slowdown, including: inadequate fluid intake or dehydration; ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement or delaying until later; lack of physical activity, especially in older adults; irritable bowel syndrome; frequent use or misuse of laxatives; problems with the colon and rectum, such as intestinal obstruction or diverticulosis; certain medications, including pain medications, diuretics and those used to treat Parkinsons disease, high blood pressure and depression; specific diseases, such as stroke, diabetes, thyroid disease and Parkinsons disease; hormonal disturbances, such as an underactive thyroid gland.
In rare cases, constipation may signal more-serious medical conditions, such as colorectal cancer, hormonal disturbances or autoimmune diseases. The main treatment of constipation involves the increased intake of water and fiber, either dietary or as supplements. The routine use of laxatives is discouraged, as having bowel movements may come to be dependent upon their use.