Constipation is a widespread problem that affects individuals of all age groups, from children to adults. For some people, it’s a temporary annoyance. For others, it can be a chronic condition causing unbearable pain and discomfort, affecting their day-to-day life. It is a condition where an individual exhibits symptoms of infrequent bowel movements, feels a lack of satisfaction after bowel movements, or cannot empty the bowel. Constipation may also lead to complex, lumpy stools that are difficult to pass.
Symptoms of Constipation
Constipation can be caused by various factors that interrupt regular bowel movements. Slow-moving or hard stools and muscle or nerve function issues can lead to constipation. The symptoms of constipation vary, such as:
- Fullness in the stomach or pelvic region
- Cramping of the bowels
- Discomfort with stool remaining in the rectum
- Heaviness or pain in the stomach and abdominal areas
Constipation can also cause aching in the back. It’s often challenging to distinguish between discomfort in the stomach and intestines, leading to confusion and pain experienced at different parts of the gastrointestinal tract. (Nall)
Constipation may become critical and require medical attention when it lasts for an extended period. In severe cases, it may be necessary to seek medical help if a person cannot expel stool for over a week, even after taking laxatives. Individuals with constipation for a more extended duration and a family history of colon or rectal cancer should also contact their doctor. You should consult a doctor immediately if you’re experiencing constipation, including bleeding from the rectum, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, inability to pass gas, vomiting, fever, lower back pain, and unintentional weight loss. (Stinchcombe)
Fecal Impaction and Why it is an Emergency
Fecal impaction is a hazardous condition where a hard stool mass gets stuck within the colon or rectum, making it challenging to expel. It is a severe problem that requires immediate medical attention to prevent grave illness or, in some cases, death. Older adults with bowel problems are more likely to develop fecal impaction. The following factors may contribute to the development of fecal impaction:
- Excess consumption of laxatives can interfere with natural bowel movements, causing fecal impaction.
- Certain medications, such as opioid painkillers, can slow digestion, make stool movement challenging and increase the likelihood of fecal impaction.
- A sedentary lifestyle and low physical activity levels can lead to constipation and increase the risk of fecal impaction.
Remedies for Constipation
To ease hard stool and enhance bowel movements, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes and remedies such as:
- Incorporating more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables in meals.
- Consuming whole-grain cereals and bread to improve fiber intake.
- Following an exercise routine to help increase muscle activity in the intestines. However, it is essential to consult a doctor regarding the frequency of exercises.
- Taking supplements such as laxatives to help to bulk up the stool, stimulate bowel movement, increase fluid secretions in the bowels, lubricate the passage of stool, and soften the hard stool.
- Depending on the circumstances, doctors may suggest different laxatives, including stimulants, cosmetics, lubricants, stool softeners, enemas, and suppositories.
(Medical News Today)
Prevention is the best treatment for constipation, whether mild or severe. A fiber-rich diet and staying hydrated are excellent ways to prevent constipation at home. Physical activities like walking and running can aid digestion and help pass bowel movements. Using different positions in the bathroom, like elevating your feet with a Squatty Potty, can create a better angle for your bowels and reduce straining while pooping, according to a 2020 research article in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.
Constipation often brings on unwelcomed symptoms that could last for a brief or extended period, making it challenging to predict when they may occur. However, most cases of constipation can be resolved with self-care techniques at home. Speak to a doctor if you have infrequent bowel movements of fewer than three times per week combined with discomfort or difficulty in bowel movements.
When Constipation is an Emergency
If the symptoms persist or you encounter pain or bleeding, seeking medical help is essential. Severe abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, persistent vomiting, abdominal swelling or distention, and sudden changes in symptoms for individuals with a history of chronic constipation are all situations that warrant a visit to the ER. The healthcare professionals at the ER can assess your symptoms, perform necessary tests, and provide appropriate treatment or further referrals.
Nall, Rachel. “What Does Constipation Feel Like?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 8 Mar. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/what-does-constipation-feel-like#takeaway.
Stinchcombe, Colleen. “Constipation Is Never ’Normal’-but Here’s When to See a Doctor for It.” Health, 8 Dec. 2022, www.health.com/condition/constipation/severe-constipation.
WebMD. “Fecal Impaction: What Is It and How Is It Treated? Impacted Bowel Symptoms.” WebMD, www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/what-is-fecal-impaction.
Medical News Today. “Fecal Impaction: How to Treat an Impacted Bowel.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322150#laxatives.