Constipation

Constipation is a condition in which the sufferer has hard feces that are difficult to expel. In most cases, this occurs because the colon has absorbed too much of the water from the food.

The slower the food moves through your digestive tract, the more water the colon will absorb. Consequently, the feces become dry and hard. Defecation (emptying the bowels) can become very painful, and in some serious cases there may be symptoms of bowel obstruction. When the constipation is very severe; when the constipation prevents the passage of feces and gas, it is called obstipation.

How common is constipation?

Constipation is very common in children of all ages. Of all visits to the pediatrician, 3% are in some way related to this complaint.

Symptoms

  • Few bowel movements
  • Trouble having a bowel movement (straining)
  • Hard or small stools
  • A sense that everything didn’t come out
  • Swollen abdomen or abdominal pain
  • Vomiting

Causes of Constipation

  • Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Changes in your usual diet or activities
  • Eating a lot of dairy products
  • Eating disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Not being active
  • Not enough water or fiber in your diet
  • Problems with the nerves and muscles in the digestive system
  • Some medications (especially strong pain drugs such as narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills)
  • Stress
  • Under active thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Celiac disease

Possible Treatment Options

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day (unless your doctor told you to limit fluids for another health reason)
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your diet
  • Eat prunes and bran cereal
  • If needed, use a very mild over-the-counter stool softener like docusate (Peri-Colace) or a laxative like Miralax. Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor. Laxative overuse can worsen your symptoms.

Call your doctor if:

  • Constipation is a new problem for you
  • You have blood in your stool
  • You are losing weight even though you are not dieting
  • You have severe pain with bowel movements
  • Your constipation has lasted more than two weeks
  • You have pencil-thin stools

Preventative Measures

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber. Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal (especially bran).
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids a day (unless your doctor has you on a fluid-restricted diet). Fiber and water work together to keep you regular.
  • Avoid caffeine. It can be dehydrating.
  • Check on milk. Some children may need to avoid it because dairy products may be constipating for them.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Go to the bathroom when you feel the urge

Resources

Video

PDFs

Points to Remember

  • Constipation affects almost everyone at one time or another
  • Many people think they're constipated when really they aren't
  • In most cases, following these simple tips will help prevent constipation:
    1. Eat a variety of foods, especially beans, bran, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables
    2. Drink plenty of liquids
    3. Exercise regularly
    4. Don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement
    5. Understand that normal bowel habits are different for everyone
    6. If your bowel habits change, check with your doctor
  • Most people with mild constipation do not need laxatives. However, doctors may recommend laxatives for a limited time for people with chronic constipation.
  • Medicines that you take for another problem might cause constipation