Constipation: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Constipation is an uncomfortably common health issue these days. Constipation can be most often defined as having three or fewer bowel movements per week. Not everyone has the same schedule when it comes to their colon and passing waste. Some people go once a day, some three times a day, and then others only three times a week. However, passing stool less than three times a week has become the universal number among medical professionals qualifying a mild case of constipation.

What is Constipation?

With the increase in cases of constipation over the years, medical professionals have begun to research more causes and reasons behind the frequent stool stoppage. Most people that suffer from chronic constipation are women or the elderly, but that doesn’t leave the rest of the population out completely. At some point in everyone’s life, they will likely experience some form of constipation.

Constipation Symptoms

Depending on the person and the circumstances, they may be dealing with mild, severe or possibly chronic constipation. They all have similar characteristics, but often just depend on how long the condition proceeds to exist. Constipation generally isn’t a huge health concern, but can become uncomfortable and a burden to daily life when left untreated. Some of the most common symptoms of constipation are listed below:

  • Less than three bowel movements per week
  • Difficult and maybe painful passing of stool
  • Hard or lumpy stool
  • The feeling of still having to “go” after a bowel movement
  • A feeling of blockage in the rectum
  • The need of assistance to produce a bowel movement by massaging the abdomen
  • Lower abdomen discomfort and bloating
  • Rectal bleeding caused by hard and/or difficult bowel movements

Once a patient begins to experience one or more of these symptoms for more than three weeks, it will then be considered a chronic constipation condition. If there are sudden, unexplained and/or persistent difficulties making bowel movements, it is best that you visit a doctor for further advice and diagnosis (x, x, x).

Constipation Symptoms

Constipation Causes

There are a number of different dietary, environmental and medical reasons constipation occurs, but treatment for constipation remains similar across the board. Being able to identify the root cause of your constipation (especially if it is chronic) is key in treating it and preventing it in the future. Some of the most common causes for constipation are listed below:

  • Sudden dietary changes
  • Lack of fiber
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Overuse of laxatives
  • Lack of activity and movement
  • Some medications (narcotics, antidepressants and iron pills being the most common)
  • Pregnancy
  • Irritable bowl syndrome
  • Eating disorders
  • An under active thyroid and other hormonal disorders
  • Blockages in the rectum or colon (usually involving colon cancer)
  • Neurological problems (Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, spinal/neck injuries)

You are at higher risk of constipation, including chronic constipation, if you have certain underlying medical conditions, if you are elderly or during pregnancy and after birth. Women tend to be more susceptible to constipation than men. However, this may be due to the higher number of cases in correlation with child rearing (x, x, x).

In very severe chronic cases of constipation, patients experience large, hard portions of stool that harden and become impassable in your colon or rectum. This is referred to as fecal or colon impaction. This condition can become extremely severe and cause illness. If left untreated, it can even result in death. If you begin to experience chronic constipation and/or frequently take laxatives, you are at higher risk, and it is suggested to visit a doctor as soon as possible to ensure proper treatment is being pursued (x).

Constipation Treatment

The easiest way to remedy constipation is through the pursuit of a healthy and consistent lifestyle. When eating whole foods and being active, you allow your body to function properly. Still, sometimes stress or underlying conditions can complicate and bind up our bowels. It is important to know ways to combat constipation in the early stages to avoid a chronic case.

If you are suffering from a mild case of constipation, you will likely be able to solve the problem yourself. There are many laxatives on the market, but don’t look to those first. There is usually a healthier and more natural treatment that won’t cause your body to become reliant on those laxatives being available.

It is usually ideal to drink at least two to four extra glasses of water per day (unless advised otherwise by a doctor), to combat dehydration. Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. Beyond that, the most common recommendation is to eat prunes, drink prune juice, add bran cereals to your morning, along with warm liquid throughout the day, and in increase in fruits and vegetables to your diet. Not only that, but don’t forget to move around and get some exercise! The more your body moves, the easier it is to get your bowels moving too. Frequent and regular exercise can help when you are stressed as well, and stress can often be a cause of constipation, especially in young adults (x, x).

Natural Laxatives

If you find that implementing the kind of lifestyle listed above isn’t doing the trick, you will likely be advised to turn to the help of laxatives next. There are numerous over the counter laxatives available, and your doctor may even recommend one that works specifically well. However, there are many natural laxatives to consider so you can be more aware of what you’re putting in your body.

Here are some natural laxatives to keep in mind:

Many of these natural laxatives are meant to keep your digestive tract healthy and are high in fiber. Implementing any of them into your diet can help keep things in check (x).

Natural Stool Softeners

Stool softeners are simply a gentler method for easing constipation. They do what they say they do, and they soften the stool to make it easier for you to pass it. Stool softeners work best when you do not need to have a bowel movement immediately and you simply have some mild symptoms of constipation. Still, many natural laxatives come in the form of food and are grouped in the same category as natural laxatives. The more commonly recommended natural stool softeners include dried prunes, leafy greens and apples. All fruits and vegetables are high in dietary fiber necessary for a healthy, regular digestive tract (x).

Supplements for Constipation

Some of us may need to supplement the food we eat with powders, extracts and pills. Especially if we are struggling with chronic constipation symptoms. Supplements capable of easing constipation include asparagus extract powder, black rice extract powder and boswellia serrata extract powder, to name a few.

The Bottom Line

Despite the commonality of constipation, it is a completely preventable disorder in most cases. There are certain things that can make individuals more susceptible to constipation. But with the help of a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, you may not have to experience it again, if at all. Keep in mind that you should always consult a trusted medical professional when altering your dietary lifestyle, especially if you’re adding supplements.

Author: Ryan Quigley
Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.