Constipation - Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
Constipation is a difficulty in passing stools, a reduced frequency of bowel openings, or the passing of dry, hard stools. Constipation can be painful. It is more common among the elderly, but may affect around a 1/4 of people at some time. Learning the causes and treatment of constipation can help you avoid, or get rid of, this unpleasant problem.
SYMPTOMS OF CONSTIPATION:
- Stomach pain associated with movement of the bowels.
- A bloated feeling.
- A sensation of the bowels not being emptied completely. - Straining when passing stools.
- Bypass diarrhea can occur, particularly in the elderly. This occurs when the lower bowel becomes stopped up with a hard stool, preventing a proper evacuation. Only more liquid stools from higher up can then pass. Diagnosis in this case is important, as drugs used to slow bowel movements only worsen the condition.
CAUSES OF CONSTIPATION:
- Usually, constipation is caused by a lack of dietary fiber.
- Dehydration, or inadequate fluid consumption, is another common cause of constipation.
- Certain drugs such as opiates, iron tablets, antacids (containing aluminum), anticholinergics and some anti-depressants can cause constipation.
- Lead poisoning and laxative abuse can both cause constipation.
- An excess of calcium in the blood can cause constipation.
- A simple lack of adequate toilet facilities can be another cause of constipation.
- Immobility or inactivity causes constipation, which is one of the reasons it is so predominant in the elderly (along with a weakening of the bowel muscles. Elderly people are also often prescribed drugs that cause constipation.
- Stress and depression can also be a cause of constipation.
- Painful anal conditions, which make people afraid of bowel openings, also cause constipation. Straining of the bowels when constipated can lead to piles (or hemorrhoids), which is a painful anal condition. The problem is then compounded as the sufferer becomes reluctant to open their bowels.
- Pregnant women frequently suffer from constipation (and piles).
- Premenstrual women also often suffer from constipation.
- Milk and dairy products can contribute to constipation, in children especially.
- Magnesium deficiencies can contribute to constipation problems.
- Excessive tea drinking can be a cause of constipation.
AVOIDING AND TREATING CONSTIPATION:
- Eat more foods that are high in fiber. These include, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts as well as foods made from wholemeal flour. Also cut your consumption of foods made with refined carbohydrates like chocolates, cakes, sweets, white rice and white bread.
- Supplement with fiber. Wheat bran and oat flakes, as well as other high-fiber cereals, will help if you add them to your food.
- Avoid drinking tea, instead drink more water and diluted fruit juices. Reducing your intake of salt may lower your fluid needs.
- Exercise regularly. This is especially important for the elderly and those with inactive lifestyles.
- Don't use laxatives long-term. They do not help the causes of constipation and can have adverse side-effects.
- Take 1-5 g of vitamin C and 200 mg of magnesium daily.
- Take a prebiotic and probiotic supplement daily. These contain bacteria which help to maintain optimum bowel health (as well as giving other health benefits) and are great for preventing constipation.
- Eating prunes, or drinking prune juice, helps to promote healthy bowel movements.
It is always wise to consult your doctor if you are suffering from constipation, especially if you have had it for a while, or it is a recurring problem. Some of the underlying causes of constipation can be serious, so it should not be ignored, or self-treated, in the long-term.