Constipation is something that everyone experiences and no one likes to talk about. Many people wonder if their bowel habits are normal or cause for concern, but they avoid discussing this issue with their doctor because they are too embarrassed. However, it is important to be honest about your bowel movements and stool consistency because these are important indicators of overall health. Hard stools and infrequent bowel movements, a condition called constipation, are often symptoms of serious illnesses.
When is Constipation Considered Abnormal?
Medical professionals become concerned when a patient’s bowel movements occur three times per week or less. However, some people naturally have fewer bowel movements. If a low frequency of bowel movements is normal for the patient, and if there are no symptoms like hard stools, rectal bleeding or abdominal pain, there is probably no reason to be concerned.
There are two types of constipation – chronic and acute. The chronic form lasts for several months, while the acute form occurs suddenly, lasts for a short time, and is often accompanied by more severe symptoms.
What Causes Constipation?
There are many factors that cause infrequent bowel movements. Some patients have only one cause, while others have multiple causes. The most common cause of Constipation is a poor diet. Eating too much junk food, meat and refined carbohydrates combined with too little dietary fiber creates hard stools and slows down intestinal movement.
Another common cause of chronic infrequent bowel movements is illness. Hypothyroidism, for example, results in low intestinal motility among other symptoms because the thyroid hormone controls all of the bodies processes, including digestion and elimination. High levels of estrogen and progesterone can cause slow intestinal movement in women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills. It is also common to have fewer bowel movements after childbirth if the pelvic muscles were damaged during delivery.
Abusing laxatives to lose weight can lead to decreased bowel movements by damaging the muscles in the intestines. When a lack of bowel movements is sudden in onset, the cause is usually either a short-term illness, such as a virus, bacterial infection or parasite, or an intestinal obstruction. A more serious cause is a blood clot in the intestinal tract.
How Is Constipation Treated?
The best course of treatment depends on the cause. Mild chronic cases can be managed through diet, exercise and natural supplements. If fewer bowel movements are a symptom of an underlying illness, treating that illness will bring the bowels back to normal. Severe, acute cases accompanied by painful symptoms should be treated immediately with an enema or laxative. If a bowel obstruction or blood clot is present, emergency surgery may be necessary.
When is Constipation a Medical Emergency?
Infrequent or absent bowel movements are not usually life-threatening; however, this condition can sometimes require urgent treatment. It is especially concerning in babies or young children because they do not have the ability to effectively communicate their symptoms. Young children who are having difficulty with bowel movements are also more likely to have an object obstructing their intestines, which can be a critical emergency situation.
Emergency care may also be required if the onset is sudden and accompanied by abdominal pain, cramping or vomiting. These symptoms indicate an acute illness or intestinal obstruction that needs urgent treatment. When there is doubt regarding the severity of symptoms, it is always a good idea to visit an emergency room or urgent care facility to be on the safe side.