Constipation is a condition characterized by infrequent stools or difficulty with stool passage. Some people can have hard bowel movements, or have to strain to have a bowel movement. Others can have feelings of incomplete or unsatisfactory defecation. Also known as irregularity, constipation can include pain when having a bowel movement, an inability to “go” after trying for a prolonged period or having less than 3 bowel movements a week. Everyone’s habits and patterns are different, so what is considered “normal” varies from person to person.
A Answers (5)
Lawrence Friedman, Gastroenterology, answeredConstipation is the slow movement of feces through the large intestine, resulting in the difficult passage of dry, hard stool. It's one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States, responsible for more than 2.5 million visits to health providers each year. The National Institutes of Health says that more than four million Americans have frequent constipation. Constipation is more common in women than men, and more common among older people.
The hard, dry stool that defines constipation develops when the colon absorbs too much water. This may happen because the muscle contractions of the colon are too slow, so the stool moves along sluggishly. Or it can occur when the anal sphincter fails to relax when it should, causing an excessive amount of stool to be stored in the rectum. Constipation can also occur when you consciously slow the movement of stool through the colon to hold back a bowel movement. If you routinely override the urge to defecate by consciously constricting the external sphincter muscles that surround the anus, your reflex to defecate may be blunted, and accumulated stool may harden as a result, becoming even more difficult to pass.
Eventually, the colon tries to move the stool by squeezing down to push it along. This causes an uncomfortable pressure and cramping. If the stool is not eliminated, more hard stool accumulates. When the stool finally passes, it can cause extreme discomfort.
Constipation is the infrequent passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, usually fewer than three times a week. Some individuals who are constipated find it painful to have a bowel movement and often experience straining, bloating, and the sensation of a full bowel.
The colon (part of the large intestine) absorbs water from food as it moves through the colon. The colon forms waste products, or stool, from this material. Muscle contractions in the colon then push the stool toward the rectum (final part of the large intestine). The stool is normally solid by the time it reaches the rectum, because most of the water has been absorbed back into the body.
Constipation is a symptom, not a disease. Almost everyone experiences constipation at some point in their life, and most periods of constipation are temporary, self-treatable, and not serious health issues. Understanding the causes, prevention, and treatment of constipation will help most individuals find relief.
Common causes of constipation include prescription medications, hormonal changes, bowel habits, diet, dehydration (lack of sufficient water), lack of exercise, laxatives, diseases such as colon cancer and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and stress.
Bowel movements are different for each individual, depending on the body, what the person eats and drinks, and the amount of exercise. Bowel movements do not have to occur daily. Normal stool elimination may range from three times a day to three times a week.
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Michael T Murray, Naturopathic Medicine, answered
Constipation is the inability to defecate. The frequency of defecation and the consistency and volume of stools vary so greatly from one individual to another that it is difficult to determine normal function. In general, most nutritionally oriented physicians recommend at least one bowel movement a day.
Constipation may mean hard, dry bowel movements, difficulty eliminating bowel movements, and/or infrequent bowel movements, sometimes preceded by cramping or bloating.
Many factors can contribute to constipation. Painful conditions of the anus can discourage regular bowel movements, which can result in large, hard, and painful bowel movements. Inadequate amounts of liquid or fiber in the diet can be partly responsible.
Some medications may be constipating. Poor habits, such as waiting too long to respond to the urge to move one's bowels, can be a factor. In other cases, poor muscle function of the intestine, resulting in slow movement of intestinal contents, is a factor.
Abnormal function of the anal muscles may also contribute to these conditions. Anatomic changes in the intestine, such as tumors, cancers, and other problems, can account for a change in the bowel habits. In many cases, no definite cause can be found.
While most people have bowel movements somewhere between three times daily and every three days, some may go a week or two between bowel movements without harmful effects. However, if pain, cramping or other discomfort develops, evaluation is suggested.