What is constipation?
The normal length of time between bowel movements varies widely from person to person. Some pass stools more than once a day while others move their bowels once or twice a week. However, if a person does not have a bowel movement for more than three days this is where the problem occurs, and a person may be considered constipated. After three days, the stool or faeces become harder and more difficult to pass.
What causes constipation?
- The most common causes of constipation are:
- Lack of fibre in the diet. Foods rich in fibre includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Lack of physical activity or exercise. Being physically active increases metabolism and therefore aids in digestion, which prevents constipation.
- Some drugs like antidepressants, narcotic pain drugs, some anticonvulsants, calcium channel blocking drugs and aluminum containing antacids and diuretics.
- Milk can also cause constipation in some people.
- Not going to the toilet when you feel the urge.
- Lack of water or dehydration
- Other times a person might be prone to constipation:
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- When travelling
- Abusive use of laxatives
- Some diseases or medical conditions
What are the symptoms?
- Some of the tell tale signs that you may be suffering from constipation are:
- You have fewer bowel movements than usual.
- You strain when moving your bowel.
- You have hard or small stools.
- You feel that there is still something left and not everything was released.
- You experience abdominal pain or bloated abdomen.
What are your treatment options?
- In most cases, constipation resolves itself without causing serious health threats. However, in cases when there is recurring constipation, it is best to evaluate your condition. You can take the following steps to help resolve constipation:
- Lifestyle change - eat a healthier diet which includes fibre foods, drink plenty of water, and be active.
- Take laxatives in moderation.
- Consult with your doctor and find out what could be the underlying illness causing constipation.
What are the different types of laxatives?
Plant based or natural - perhaps the most common. These comprise of high fibre food.
Bulk producing agents - these are compounds that work on the small and large intestines. These work between 12 to 72 hours and make the stool become bulkier and retain more water. Examples of this are: psyllium husk, methylcellulose, dietary fiber and polycarbophil.
Stool softeners or surfactants - Like the bulking agents, these also work between 12 to 72 hours. These cause fats and water to penetrate the stool to help it move more easily through the digestive system. These lose their efficacy when used for a long period of time so will only take effect in people with occasional constipation. Example: Ducosate
Lubricants or emollients - Working in the colon and usually taking from 6 to 8 hours, these make the stool slippery so it can move down the intestine faster and easier. Example: mineral oil
Hydrating agents or osmotics - these help by making the intestine hydrated by concentrating the water within. This then leads to softening of the stool.
Stimulants - work in the colon by stimulating the wave of contractions that pass along the colon. This in effect propels the stools along. Examples are: Dulcolax, Senna, Aloin, Bisocodyl Suppository.
Castor Oil - works directly in the small intestine on the mucosa in the intestines. This alters the water and electrolyte secretion. Page updated 23/08/16 7:08:02 a.m.