Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. The normal length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements three times a day; others, only one or two times a week. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement is too long. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and more difficult to pass.
You are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following for at least 3 months:
• Straining during a bowel movement more than 25% of the time
• Hard stools more than 25% of the time
• Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time
• Two or fewer bowel movements in a week
Constipation is usually caused by a disorder of bowel function rather than a structural problem. Common causes of constipation include:
• Inadequate water intake
• Inadequate fiber in the diet
• A disruption of regular diet or routine; traveling
• Inadequate activity or exercise or immobility
• Eating large amounts of dairy products
• Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, which is sometimes the result of pain from hemorrhoids
• Overuse of laxatives (stimulant laxatives such as senna (Senokot)) which, over time, weaken the bowel muscles
• Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis
• Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
• Medicines (especially strong pain medicines, such as narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills)
• Eating disorders
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Colon cancer
In some cases, lack of good nerve and muscle function in the bowel may also be a cause of constipation.
What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?
Symptoms of constipation can include:
• Infrequent bowel movements or difficulty having bowel movements (straining)
• Hard or small stools
• Sense of incomplete bowel movement
• Swollen abdomen or abdominal pain
There may also be occasional diarrhea resulting from hard stool obstructing the colon.
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