What is Constipation and Why Is It a Problem?
Constipation is not the most exciting health topic! Still, it’s essential to understand as the side effects of improper bowel evacuation can be quite detrimental to a person’s health.
Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel motions that are hard, dry and difficult to pass. It is either from a known cause or idiopathic, which is an unknown cause. Most medical sites that discuss Constipation are referring to chronic Constipation and don’t offer any advice for people that only pass a bowel motion every 2 or 3 days. Ideally, going to the toilet daily is the best recipe, to remove toxic build-up and lay the foundations for health.
What Causes Constipation?
Sometimes the timing of the onset of constipation makes it easier to identify the cause. For instance, eating a lot of cheese or gluten-heavy foods may create temporary constipation, just because of the nature of how large quantities of those foods are processed by the digestive tract. More often than not, though, the cause is either not obvious or a combination of factors. Below are some of the most common causes of constipation:
- Dietary Fiber: Perhaps the most common culprit of constipation is a lack of fiber in one’s diet. Otherwise known as “roughage,” fiber is a food element derived from plants that isn’t broken down by the digestive system, yet it serves a series of valuable functions in maintaining bowel regularity and stool softness. Without sufficient fiber, stools tend to be harder and more difficult to pass.
- Dehydration: A factor that is closely related to dietary fiber is fluid intake. Just as a lack of fiber can lead to constipation, so can a lack of fluids, especially water. The primary reason for this is that the colon (large intestine) is responsible for absorbing water from digested food as it passes through. The colon tends to absorb the same amount of water regardless of how much you drink, so dehydration results in harder, dryer stools.
- Lifestyle Changes: The digestive system is surprisingly responsive to a variety of changes in daily habits; traveling, added stress, and changes in exercise habits are just a few examples of life circumstances that can indirectly lead to constipation. For example, these circumstances often see us eating different, less healthy foods as well as eating at different times of day.
- Exercise: Exercise is an important part of overall health and digestive health more specifically because physical activity actually helps food move more quickly through the intestines. Lack of physical activity, by contrast, causes it to move more slowly and therefore the colon has more time to absorb water.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): IBS is a group of symptoms that tend to present together in a predictable way, and one of the classic symptoms of IBS is constipation.
- Resisting the Urge: Many people don’t realize that constipation can also be brought on by suppressing the “urge” to have a bowel movement. When circumstances (being busy or temporarily not having access to a toilet for instance) make it difficult to go for hours or all day, the stool sits in your colon and the water is continually absorbed until it gets drier and harder.
- Laxatives: Though it may seem counterintuitive, overuse of laxatives can actually cause constipation. While laxatives can be used to promote the passage of hardened stools, using them too often can essentially make your body dependent on them for normal bowel movements.
- Hypothyroidism: The thyroid is a gland that secretes hormones that are important in the regulation of metabolism. When someone has hypothyroidism, too little of these hormones are released into the body. One of the results is an overall slowdown in bowel motility that can promote constipation.
What are the Side Effects of Constipation?
Along with difficulty or inability to pass stool, pain, cramping, and other well-known side effects, there are some additional side effects of constipation that most people don’t usually consider. Constipation can take a toll on many other areas of your body and health.
- Hemorrhoids: Straining to pass hardened stool can cause swelling and inflammation of the veins around and inside the anus. Hemorrhoids can become unpleasant and painful when they protrude from the anal opening. They can also bleed under the strain of passing stool.
- Rectal Prolapse: Sometimes mistaken for hemorrhoids, a rectal prolapse is a condition where part or all of the rectum protrudes from the anus. This is caused by straining to pass hardened stool and can be very painful.
- Anal Fissures: Another condition caused by the strain of passing stool, anal fissures are tiny tears around the anus. While normal stool is soft and easy to pass, hardened stool is much less flexible and can cause the anus to tear. These tiny tears can sometimes bleed or become infected. Once you experience anal fissures, you are likely prone to their recurrence.
- Fecal Impaction: When you are constipated, hardened stool can begin to accumulate and stick to the walls of your intestines. Over time this can cause your intestines to become blocked or impacted. Fecal impaction can cause pain and vomiting and often needs medical assistance for its removal.
If you’ve experienced chronic constipation or the symptoms involved, our gastroenterologists at Triborough GI can help with a diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Your gastrointestinal health plays a significant part in your quality of life and overall health. Contact us today to begin your journey to a happier and more comfortable life.