Most people have experienced constipation. Commonly, constipation is uncomfortable yet short-lived. However, some people experience ongoing or chronic constipation which may be a sign of something more serious.
Let's talk about the causes of constipation and when you should seek medical attention.
Defining Constipation and Its Symptoms
Constipation is defined as “a disordered movement of the stool.” This can manifest in many ways, including:
Chronic constipation occurs when these symptoms occur for three out of six months. About 15% of the population experiences chronic constipation.
Possible Causes of Constipation
Improper diet is the most common cause of constipation, mainly associated with water and fiber intake. The average person requires 20-35 grams of fiber and 64 ounces of water per day to have normal bowel function. Many people (particularly younger people) consume less than the minimum. If you are constipated, eating more fiber and drinking more water is a common and often effective solution.
Most constipation is idiopathic, meaning it can arise spontaneously from unknown causes. There are three basic types of idiopathic constipation:
Some common causes of constipation include:
4 Treatments To Try Before Consulting a Doctor
Before consulting a medical professional, there are at-home treatments that may help with constipation:
When To Seek Medical Treatment for Constipation
If you have tried the solutions above and see no positive results within 2-4 weeks — or if you have experienced constipation for three of the last six months — talk to your doctor. Certain symptoms may be a sign of more serious conditions. If you experience any of these “alarm symptoms,” you should seek medical attention.
Further Constipation Treatment Options
Because there are many kinds of constipation, medical treatment will vary. Your doctor will start by identifying the underlying cause of the constipation. A physical examination, your medical history, and blood work (to identify conditions like diabetes or thyroid disease) will all help identify the root of the problem.
Your doctor may begin by adding fiber supplements (like Metamucil or Benefiber) to your diet. Stronger laxatives may be prescribed if required. If that proves ineffective, or if there are the “alarm symptoms” as mentioned above, a colonoscopy may be required. Additional treatment options your doctor may prescribe include:
If you have concerns about constipation, please contact us to make an appointment to see a physician at Richmond Gastroenterology Associates.