Almost every person has experienced constipation at least once in their lifetime. Affecting approximately 42 million people in the US alone, this common digestive problem is a symptom rather than a disease, typically characterized by two factors:
- Less than three bowels per week
- Small, dry and hard stools that are painful and difficult to pass
The last stretch of the food’s journey down the digestive tract involves the formation of waste after all the nutrients are absorbed by the body. Slow-moving waste causes more re-absorption of water, resulting in hard and dry stools. The easy passage of stools is determined to a large extent by your diet and level of activity. While fiber-rich foods, plenty of water and an active lifestyle facilitate excretion, a diet rich in dairy products can cause difficulties. Overuse of certain medications such as laxatives, iron pills, narcotics and antidepressants, blockages in the colon or rectum by cancerous growth, problems with muscles and nerves supplying this area, and hormonal imbalance can also cause constipation. Constipation can be a symptom of certain conditions such as eating disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Although constipation can occur in anyone of any age group, certain factors can increase your chances, such as being a woman, especially during pregnancy or after child birth, elderly, those who have just had surgery and people of the lower income group.
Whatever be the cause, constipation is usually not dangerous and resolves soon with simple remedies such as drinking plenty of water, adding fruits and vegetables into your diet, eating prunes, and using certain over-the-counter stool softeners. When these do not help, your doctor may prescribe other medication and sometimes suggest surgery to treat the underlying cause of the condition.
Though a common problem, when left untreated, constipation can cause many complications such as hemorrhoids (swollen veins in the anus), anal fissure (torn skin in the anus), fecal impaction (stools getting stuck in the intestine) and rectal prolapse (bulging of the intestine through the anus).
With proper precautions in your diet and lifestyle, and timely treatment, you can avoid the negative impact of constipation on your quality of life.
At Greater Houston Gastroenterology, we provide specialized services and treatments for a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions. Our dedicated clinical staff and physician assistants are available to assist in delivering high-quality treatment and expert care. As the largest GI group in the greater Houston area, we offer 17 locations for your convenience.