Constipation is a condition that involves difficulty in having a bowel movement or involves having stools (solid waste material from the body) that are dry and hard.
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What Is Constipation?
Normal bowel movement patterns vary from person to person. Some people move their bowels as often as after every meal. Other people may move their bowels every 3 days or so. Both of these patterns may be normal.
With constipation a person feels discomfort and has irregular bowel movements. The difficulty comes from the dry, hard condition of the stool. Constipation may be associated with many medical illnesses.
What Causes Constipation?
Several factors can contribute to constipation, such as not eating enough fiber or drinking enough fluids, inactivity, or not developing regular toilet habits. Certain medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or hypothyroidism are associated with constipation. Sometimes the medicine people take for other illnesses causes them to become constipated. Pregnant women frequently develop constipation, also.
Constipation can occur when a person "withholds" stool and the intestines reabsorb the water in the stool, causing it to become harder. Withholding the stool can happen if a person is not comfortable having a bowel movement, for example, when traveling or if the toilet area is considered unsafe or unpleasant.
What Is the Treatment for Constipation?
Although many people take laxatives (LAK-sa-tivs) for constipation, doctors warn that these should not be taken regularly because the intestines may become sluggish and dependent on laxatives. Instead, it is recommended that people eat a diet that is rich in fiber. Foods that have fiber are whole grains, like bran or whole wheat, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Eating mostly foods that contain a lot of starch or sugar, like cookies and cakes, doesn't give the body enough fiber for good digestion and proper elimination. Also, it is important to drink sufficient amounts of water.
In serious cases of constipation, a person may need to be examined by a doctor and possibly be given an enema (EN-e-ma). This is a process of putting fluid into the rectum to loosen the stool. The doctor also may prescribe medication to help the patient regain regular bowel habits.
For a child who develops a serious case of constipation, the doctor may help by providing a habit-training program. In addition to being instructed about proper diet and increased water intake, the child may be given medicine to help develop regular toilet habits.
Can Constipation Be Prevented?
Most people can prevent constipation by following a regular routine for bowel movements. Here are some things that help prevent constipation:
- Eating foods rich in fiber
- Avoiding junk foods
- Drinking sufficient water every day
- Regular toilet habits
- Regular exercise
- Plenty of rest
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, National Health
Information Center, Washington, DC. This office offers information on
many diseases and disorders.
Telephone 800-336-4797 or 202-429-9091 http://odphp.osophs.dhhs.gov
The U.S. National Institutes of Health posts information about
constipation on its website.