Fewer than three bowel movements a week is an indication of constipation. The stools are often hard, small and difficult to eliminate. Straining to pass stools causes pain, not only around the anus but also in the abdomen, which may be swollen and bloated. Often, people keep going back to the toilet, without results. Constipation can often be prevented, and if not preventable, it can usually be managed. It's a symptom, not a disease, and is caused by many things. This list covers the most common.
Irritable bowel syndrome affects the large intestine or colon. It's a chronic condition that needs to be managed by diet and exercise, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. Constipation from IBS can be very uncomfortable. The body is unable to digest certain foods properly, especially highly refined products such as white bread, rice and cereals, and blockage results. Those experiencing IBS may find relief by consuming more fiber either through their diet or with supplements.
Constipation is strongly associated with malnutrition. People with eating disorders often experience malnutrition and thus become constipated. Restricted intake of food and purging contribute to bowel blockage. They may use laxatives as a remedy, which only compounds the problem. It takes time to heal the body and relearn proper eating habits, but the condition can return to normal when healthy nutrition is restored.
Dietary fiber plays a significant role in keeping the bowels regular and abdominal organs healthy and functioning well. Fiber is found in all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds, legumes and beans. To ease constipation, people need to consume fiber-rich foods regularly or take a fiber supplement. The fiber in citrus fruits and legumes can stimulate colonic flora, encouraging the growth of bacteria in the colon, which is good for a healthy intestine.
Protein and lactose in dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream may lead to constipation, bloating and gas, especially if consumed in large quantities. Eliminating or reducing dairy products in the diet may make a significant improvement to the regularity of bowel movements.
Some over-the-counter antacids used to treat acid reflux or GERD can cause constipation. Not all antacid medication causes constipation, only those containing aluminum hydroxide or calcium. Check the label or ask a health care professional when seeking relief from a persistently upset stomach.
Other medications can also contribute to constipation. Diuretics used to help regulate high blood pressure can cause dehydration, which then may lead to constipation. Some antidepressants interfere with the nerves that stimulate the bowel, resulting in GI problems. Pain-relieving opioids can also cause constipation. Even laxatives can cause constipation rather than relieve it with overuse. This is because the body eventually builds up a tolerance to anything that acts as a stimulant laxative.
People with diabetes may experience chronic constipation because of the inflammation associated with the disease. Neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis can lead to this as well, as can any problems with the nerves or muscles within the digestive system. In fact, any disease that affects the abdominal area has the potential to lead to GI problems.
Stress and anxiety are obvious factors in causing constipation. Stress affects the body in many different ways. Not only does the body ache because people are less likely to eat healthily, exercise or drink enough water when stressed, but the gut and brain have an incredible connection; when one hurts, so does the other.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that affect metabolism. It releases hormones into the bloodstream that then go to nearly every other organ in the body, including the bowel. An underactive thyroid gland causes hypothyroidism, and its connection with constipation is undeniable. Medication can help to regulate hormone release and keep the body functioning normally.
If a person restrains from having a bowel movement for any reason, complications can develop. If it happens often enough, the result can be constipation. Most of the time, if it's uncomfortable to defecate, the body puts up resistance. Any colon condition such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures can lead to constipation because it's too painful to go. Also, being in unfamiliar surroundings can prevent people from being comfortable enough to move their bowels. Fortunately, these should all be temporary circumstances, and the bowels will return to normal functioning.
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