Constipation occurs when stools are difficult to pass. Some people are overly concerned with the frequency of their bowel movements, because they have been taught that a healthy person has a bowel movement every day. This is not true. Most people pass stools anywhere from 3 times a day to 3 times a week. If your stools are soft and pass easily, you are not constipated.
Constipation is present if you have 2 or fewer bowel movements each week or you do not take laxatives and have 2 or more of the following problems at least 25% of the time:
Constipation may occur with cramping and pain in the rectum caused by the strain of trying to pass hard, dry stools. You may have some bloating and nausea. You may also have small amounts of bright red blood on the stool or on the toilet tissue, caused by bleeding hemorrhoids or a slight tearing of the anus (anal fissure) as the stool is pushed through the anus. This should stop when the constipation is controlled.
Constipation can mean the slow movement of stool through the intestines or problems releasing a stool.
Lack of fibre is a common cause of constipation. Other causes include:
Constipation is sometimes a sign of another health problem, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or hypercalcemia.
Constipation is sometimes caused by poor muscle tone in the pelvic area (outlet delay). Excessive straining, needing manual pressure on the vaginal wall, or feelings of incomplete emptying may be a symptom of this type of constipation. Outlet delay constipation is caused by:
Constipation is more common in people older than 65. People in this age group are more likely to have poor dietary habits and increased medicine use. Older adults also often have decreased muscular activity of the intestinal tract, which increases the time it takes for stool to move through the intestines. Physical problems, such as arthritis, may make sitting on the toilet uncomfortable or painful.
Women report problems with constipation more often than men.
If a stool becomes lodged in the rectum (impacted), mucus and fluid may leak out around the stool, sometimes leading to leakage of fecal material (fecal incontinence). You may experience this as constipation alternating with episodes of diarrhea.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Blood in the stool can come from anywhere in the digestive tract, such as the stomach or intestines. Depending on where the blood is coming from and how fast it is moving, it may be bright red, reddish brown, or black like tar.
A little bit of bright red blood on the stool or on the toilet paper is often caused by mild irritation of the rectum. For example, this can happen if you have to strain hard to pass a stool or if you have a hemorrhoid.
Certain medicines and foods can affect the colour of stool. Diarrhea medicines (such as Pepto-Bismol) and iron tablets can make the stool black. Eating lots of beets may turn the stool red. Eating foods with black or dark blue food colouring can turn the stool black.
If you take aspirin or some other medicine (called a blood thinner) that prevents blood clots, it can cause some blood in your stools. If you take a blood thinner and have ongoing blood in your stools, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Pain in adults and older children
Many prescription and non-prescription medicines can cause constipation. A few examples are:
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Constipation can be treated at home.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
If you have any of these symptoms, you need to be evaluated by a doctor.
You can prevent constipation.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerDavid Messenger, MD
Current as ofDecember 7, 2017
Current as of: December 7, 2017
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & David Messenger, MD
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