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What is Constipation?

What is constipation? Constipation is a gastrointestinal condition — not a disease — that affects more than four million Americans each year. A person suffers from constipation if they suffer any two of the following symptoms for 12 or more weeks:

  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Hard stools
  • Feelings of incomplete bowel movements
  • Less than three bowel movements per week
  • Feeling like there is a blockage in the rectum or colon

Everyone’s body is different; therefore, the normal length of time between bowel movements varies widely from one person to the next. A patient is not necessarily constipated if he does not have a bowel movement every day. Some patients make more than one bowel movement each day, while others only make one once or twice a week.

Read more about constipation symptoms

Who gets constipated?

Constipation is so common that just about everyone gets it at some point in time. It is often caused by a poor diet, and it is usually temporary. Frequent constipation leads to 2.5 million doctor visits each year. Women and adults ages 65 or older are those most often affected by constipation. Constipation is also common in pregnant women who also might complain of constipation after giving birth. Patients who have just had surgery frequently suffer from constipation as well.

Why does constipation occur?

Constipation begins in the colon. The colon, or large intestine, absorbs water from the food we eat and makes solid waste, which is the stool. Then the colon’s muscles contract and move the stool to the rectum. When the colon absorbs too much water, constipation occurs. Constipation also occurs when there are sluggish muscle contractions, meaning the stool moves more slowly through the colon and when the fiber content of stool is low.

What causes constipation?

The most common causes of constipation include a limited physcial activity and a diet low in fiber fluid and adequate probiotic bacteria. People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome also get constipated, as do people who experience changes in life such as aging and pregnancy. People who feel like they need to go to the bathroom but do not go when they need to might get constipated as well. Taking certain medicines and dehydration are two other common causes.

Read more about causes of constipation

Common treatments for constipation

The most common treatments for constipation are simple changes in lifestyle, such as getting more exercise, drinking more fluids and eating a high-fiber diet. In more serious cases, constipation may also be treated with over-the-counter laxatives or medicines prescribed by a physician.

Read more about constipation treatments

Fortunately, while sometimes painful or uncomfortable, constipation is frequently temporary. Patients can usually improve constipation by making simple changes in the way they live their lives

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