People mean many things when they say they have constipation. Infrequent passing of stools, difficulties in voiding, sense of incomplete voiding are all suggestive of constipation. The normal reference range for bowel movements is very varied. Some people have bowel movements three times a day; others, only one or two times a week.
Medically, constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Constipation may be considered severe, when there is less than one bowel movement in a week.
Infrequent stools with no other complaints is rarely abnormal. Women are more affected than men. The elderly and children are however most prone to constipation.
- Hard, difficult to pass stools which require straining or manual removal with fingers – felt more than 25% of times.
- Stools infrequent, less than three times a week.
- Sensation of incomplete voidance.
Other symptoms that a person with constipation may feel are:
- The abdomen may seem bloated, distended or crampy.
- The bowel sounds may seem enhanced.
Many factors contribute to development of constipation. Different people will have different set of causative factors.
- Insufficient fiber intake in diet.
- Not chewing the food properly / eating hurriedly.
- Reduced water intake.
- Various medications
- Iron supplements
- Antidepressants, tri-cyclic anti-depressants.
- Stopping cigarette smoking.
- Abuse of laxatives.
- Medications containing calcium and aluminium.
- Endocrine disorders like – under active thyroid.
- Any severe illness like stroke, paralysis.
- Major changes in life like pregnancy, old-age or traveling.
- Psychosomatic causes like depression and anxiety neurosis.
- Biochemical imbalance ‘ low potassium levels in blood.
- Lead poisoning.
- Conditions that obstruct the normal passage of the stools within the intestines ‘ foreign bodies in intestines, strictures, adhesions, tumors, etc.
- Abdominal surgeries.
- Weakened pelvic floor muscles.
- Constipation can occur sometimes as part of a condition called ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ where it alternates with diarrhea.
A proper clinical history and physical examination usually suffices to diagnose constipation.
The presence of hard stools, difficulty in eliminating them and feeling of incomplete voiding of stools usually indicate the presence of constipation. Very hard, small, pellet-like stools which are eliminated with a lot of difficulty certainly indicate constipation even if stool occurs every day.
In very severe constipation of long standing, a physical examination may reveal the presence of hard lumps over the abdominal surface.
Other tests that your doctor may advice are:
- Anorectal function tests – identify constipation caused by abnormal functioning of the anus or rectum.
- Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
- Colorectal transit study – shows how well food moves through the colon.
- Defecography – evaluates completeness of stool elimination, evaluates rectal muscle contractions and relaxation and abnormalities in the anal canal or the rectum.
- Barium enema X-rays of the abdomen to detect the presence of any foreign bodies or other structural abnormalities within the intestines.
- Tests to rule out an under active thyroid.
Constipation is a condition easier to prevent than to cure. Tackling the problem at its onset can prevent many years of discomfort and sufferings.
Tips to Prevent Constipation
- Have more fibres in your diet. 25 to 30 grams of daily intake can prevent constipation. Fibres help retain water in the stools thus making them softer and easier to expel.
- Whole grain cereals and breads
- Dried fruits, such as prunes and raisins
- Popcorn, nuts, and seeds
- Beans and legumes
- Raw fruits and vegetables
- Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water. 8 glasses a day will help. Have more if you are physically active. Prune (manukka) juice, and other fruit drinks are known to normalize bowel motility.
- Cut down on soft drinks and alcohols. Dehydration is a major contributor for hard, lumpy & irregular stools. Overuse of colas, alcoholic and caffeinated products can contribute to constipation. They are dehydrating agents.
- Check your medicine closet.Identify your routine medications that may contribute to constipation. Let your doctor help you find an alternative.
- Don’t curb your natural tendencies! Do not ignore your body’s natural urge to defecate. Over time, your body will stop having these natural urges and constipation will set in. Train your child to void himself when he has the urge, even if he’d rather play.
- Stop the regular use of laxatives and enemas. Their long-term use can aggravate constipation. If you must take laxatives, then try starting with very low doses. Avoid randomly self-medicating oneself.
- Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!! Physical inactivity can certainly make bowel movements very sluggish! People tend to cut down on physical activities as they age, for many reasons. Walking is a great way to exercise and prevent constipation.
Changes in living and diet can alleviate the symptoms of chronic constipation. An under active thyroid disorder or mood disorders like anxiety neurosis will require treatments specific to them.
A major part of treatment consists of adding more fibre and fluids in the diet; engaging in more physical activities and modifying the stress factors that contribute to constipation.
Constipation not improving with life-style changes is managed with
However, long term use of laxatives can cause further symptoms of distention and bloated feeling, not to mention an ever increasing dependence on them.
Homeopathic treatment for Constipation:
Homeopathy offers promising cure for constipation. Chronic constipation results from various constitutional problems such as stress, genetic predisposing, altered sleep pattern, etc. Homeopathy offers treatment which is based on the patient’s individual case pattern. Homeopathy is strongly recommended for all cases of constipation.
Homeopathic treatment for constipation is based on the treatment of internal causes leading to development of constipation. Most cases of constipation may not need medicine but some lifestyle and food changes.
The homeopathic medicines for constipation have a distinction over the purgatives by it not being habit-forming. Most of the purgatives are habit forming, doing more harm at the end, on stopping it. Homeopathic medicines are NOT habit forming, as they are actually not purgatives.
Some common homeopathic remedies are listed below:
Nux vomica: This is an over-the-counter homeopathic medicine, which is safe to take for a few days, for getting relief in constipation. Typically, this medicine is suitable for young executives or businessmen, who are always on the go, living stressful life, pressure of deadlines, frequent travellers, irregular sleep habits, use or abuse of alcohol and smokers, and who are highly ambitious. They are likely to be lean, thin in physical structure and may be regular at gym, still not satisfied with bowel movements. Nux Vomica 30c potency for a week may help them with constipation.
Bryonia alba: This medicine is suitable to those who are constipation and having dry, hard stool, requiring straining at passing stool; or those who have no desire to pass stool for a couple of days. Again, they are business executives, living stressful urban lifestyle.
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