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Jan 16, 2008


© Dr Vandana Patni 2008

Constipation refers to a decrease in the frequency of bowel movements. For some people, it may mean difficulty in passing stools. A constipated stool is hard because it contains less water than normal. Constipation is a symptom, not a disease.Constipation is difficult to define clearly because as a symptom it varies from person to person.
The frequency of bowel movements also varies greatly, ranging from 3 movements per day to 3 per week. Generally, if your bowel has not opened for 3 successive days, the intestinal contents harden, and you may have difficulty or even pain during defecation.
A common misconception about constipation is that wastes stored in your body are absorbed, are dangerous to your health, and may shorten your lifespan. Some people have an underlying fear that they will be "poisoned" by their own intestinal wastes (feces) if they retain the waste in their bodies for more than a certain length of time. It is not true.
Older people are five times more likely than younger people to develop constipation. But experts believe that older people become too concerned with having a daily bowel movement and that constipation in this age group is overestimated.

What causes constipation?

Constipation may result from a poor diet, poor bowel habits or problems in elimination of stool, whether physical, functional or voluntary.

These are the most common causes of constipation:

Poor diet: Eating foods rich in animal fats (dairy products, meats, and eggs) or refined sugar but low in fiber (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) may cause constipation.

Poor bowel habits: Ignoring the desire to have bowel movements may initiate a cycle of constipation.After a period of time, you may stop feeling the desire for opening your bowel.
This leads to progressive constipation. For example, some people may avoid using public toilets or ignore going to the toilet because they are busy.

Medications: Many medications can cause constipation.

1.Antacids - Those containing aluminum hydroxide and calcium carbonate

2.Antispasmodic drugs-Used for pain.

3.Antidepressants- Used for mood disorders and other psychiatric illness.

4.Iron tablets- For anemia and used in Pregnancy.

5.Anticonvulsant drugs- used in Epilepsy

6. Painkillers: Narcotic-containing drugs, for instance, may interfere with bowel functions.

Travel: Changes in lifestyle, low fluid intake, and eating fast food may cause constipation.

Irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colon): This is one of the most common causes of constipation. Because of changes in bowel function, if you have this disorder, you may have crampy abdominal pain, excessive gas, bloating, and constipation.

Laxative abuse: Habitually using laxatives gradually will produce dependency on them.

A.You may eventually require increasing amounts of laxatives to move your bowels.
B.In some instances, the bowel will become insensitive to laxatives and fail to open.

Pregnancy: Constipation during pregnancy may be due to several factors. Each of the following conditions produces severe pain on defecation, which may trigger a reflex spasm of the anal sphincter muscle. The spasm may delay bowel movement and decrease the desire for bowel opening as a means to avoid the anal pain.

1.Mechanical pressure on bowel by the heavy womb
2.Hormonal changes during pregnancy
3.Changes in food and fluid intake

Anal fissure (cracks in the anus)
Hemorrhoids (piles)
Anal stenosis (narrow anus)

Intestinal obstruction: Mechanical compression and interference with the normal functions of the bowel may occur in the following ways:

Inflammatory adhesions and joining of tissues
Intestinal tumors or foreign bodies
Gallstones that have become immovably wedged in the intestine
Twisting of the intestine upon itself (volvulus)
Intussusception: "Telescoping of the intestine" in which one part of your intestine slips or is drawn onto another part just below it (This occurs mainly in children.)
Abdominal hernia: Loops of the intestine become obstructed
Damage to nerves within intestine: (Spinal cord tumors, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injuries may produce constipation by interfering with the function of the nerves supplying the intestine.)
Connective tissue diseases: Conditions such as scleroderma and lupus
Poor-functioning thyroid gland : A low production of thyroxin, a hormone produced by the thyroid gland, hypothyroidism, causing constipation

Lead poisoning and other metabolic disorders

Age: Older adults are more likely to have constipation for these reasons:

Poor diet and insufficient intake of fluids
Lack of exercise
Side effects of prescription drugs used to treat other conditions
Poor bowel habits
Prolonged bed rest, for example after an accident or during an illness
Habitual use of enemas and laxatives


You may exhibit a broad range of symptoms of constipation depending on your normal bowel habits, diet, and age. These are common problems you may have if you are constipated:

1. Difficulty in starting or completing a bowel movement
2.Infrequent and difficult passage of stool
3.Passing hard stool after prolonged straining in the toilet
4.If you have irritable bowel syndrome, crampy abdominal pain, excessive gas, a sense of bloating, and a change in bowel habits
5. If you have intestinal obstruction, nausea, vomiting, no defecation, and inability to pass gas
6.Distended abdomen, headaches, and loss of appetite
7.Coated (furred) tongue, offensive breath, and bad taste in your mouth

When to Seek Medical Care

If you have these concerns:
1.Symptoms are severe and last longer than 3 weeks
2.Recent and significant change in bowel habits, for instance, constipation alternates with diarrhea
3.Severe pain in the anus during a bowel movement
4.Symptoms of other diseases in addition to constipation (For example, tiredness, fatigue, poor tolerance to cold weather may suggest the need to assess your thyroid function for hypothyroidism, an under active gland.)
5.Constipation for 2 weeks or longer with returning abdominal pain, which might be a sign of lead poisoning

Seek emergency medical care: Although constipation may be extremely uncomfortable, it is usually not serious. It may signal a serious underlying disorder, however, such as cancer of the bowel. Because constipation may lead to complications such as Rectal bleeding
1.Anal pain and hemorrhoids
2.Anal fissures or cracks in the mucous lining (severe pain during defecation in the anal area)
3.Fecal impaction (immovable intestinal contents) in very young children and in older adults
4.Rectal prolapse or sagging (Occasionally, straining causes a small amount of the intestinal lining to push out from the rectal opening. This may lead to secretion of mucus that may stain underpants.)
5.Recurrent vomiting with constipation and abdominal pain (This may suggest intestinal obstruction and needs urgent hospital treatment.)

Exams and Tests

Your Doctor may ask you several questions, conduct a physical exam, and perform certain lab tests to find out possible causes of your constipation.

Your answers to these questions will help your doctor assess your condition and plan treatment options.
1.What are your normal bowel habits?
2.How long have you had difficulty in passing stool?
3.When was the last time you passed stool?
4.Are you able to pass gas?
5.Do you experience any abdominal or anal pain?Could you indicate with your finger the site of your pain?How would you describe your abdominal pain?
6.Have you noticed any changes in your body temperature?
7.Have you tried any medication? Did it help?
8.Do you usually take laxatives or an enema? If yes, what type of laxatives and how many tablets per day do you usually take?Do you feel that you always need laxatives to pass stool?
9.Do you have any other symptoms?
10.Any changes in your appetite?
11.Any changes in your body weight?
12.Do you feel better after passing stools?
13.Do you feel sick? Have you thrown up?
14.Any hospital admission or investigations for similar illness?
15.Are you pregnant?
16.Do you smoke cigarettes? When did you start smoking? How many cigarettes do you smoke per day?
17.Do you drink alcohol? Coffee? Tea?
18.Do you use drugs? Any medications?
19.Have you ever had surgery? What surgery? When?
20.Any joint pain, eye problems, back or neck pain, or skin changes?
21.Do you usually prefer the warm weather?
22.Do you usually feel tired?
23.Do you have a family history of constipation or bowel cancer?


Your Doctor will examine your abdomen, anus and other body systems including the nervous system, the thyroid gland (for any goiter), and the musculoskeletal system. What the provider examines will depend on your answers to the questions and any history that may suggest certain disorders.
Your Doctor will decide which tests you need based on your symptoms, history, and examination. These tests will help assess the actual cause of the problem. The most commonly used tests may include the following:

Laboratory tests

Examining a stool sample under a microscope
Full blood count and blood film
Thyroid function tests if hypothyroidism suspected


Upright plain x-ray of your chest and abdomen - May show free air from intestinal perforation or signs of intestinal obstruction
Barium enema - May reveal a normal sized colon
Assessment of food movement - May demonstrate a prolonged and delayed transit time


Sigmoidoscopy - May help to detect problems in your rectum and lower colon. Your doctor will insert a flexible lighted instrument through your anus to visualize the rectum and the lower intestine.
Colonoscopy - Using an internal examination, your doctor can confirm the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome by ruling out more serious disorders. The doctor also may take tissue biopsies for further studies to assess the cause underlying your symptoms.


If your bowel is not blocked, you and your health care provider must establish realistic goals of medical treatment.
All cases will require dietary advice. Treatment may be difficult, particularly in those with chronic constipation. Your doctor may prescribe bulk-forming agents in addition to dietary changes.
Increased activity in the elderly and regular exercise in younger people will help.

Care at Home

1.Get more fiber or bulk in your diet.
2.Regular physical activity is an important component in bowel health.
3.Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and fruit juices. Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily in addition to your beverages with meals.
4.Go to the toilet at the same time every day—preferably after meals—and take enough time.
5.Use non digestible sugar (lactose) or specially formulated solutions.
6.Avoid using over-the-counter laxatives. Try to avoid laxatives containing senna (Senokot) or buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana) because long-term intake may damage the lining of your bowel and injure nerve endings to the colon.
7.Try a daily exercise such as the knee-to-chest position. Such positions may activate bowel movements. Spend about 10-15 minutes in this position. Breathe in and out deeply.


If these initial measures fail, your doctor may try a number of laxatives on a short-term basis. You must consult with your doctor before using any of these agents, particularly on long-term basis.
A.Mineral oils
B.Sodium docusate or calcium docusate are useful when you must avoid straining, such as after a heart attack, during pregnancy, or after gastrointestinal surgery.
C.Saline laxatives such as magnesium hydroxide (Phillips Milk of Magnesia) or sodium phosphate (Phospho-Soda, Fleet enema) are not recommended if you have renal insufficiency (an inability or reduced capacity of the kidney to remove waste). These laxatives may produce severe side effects if used on long-term basis.
D.Polyethylene glycol 3350 (Miralax) is an osmotic laxative that is not absorbed by your stomach. It holds water in the bowel, resulting in looser stools and a laxative effect. It may be taken occasionally for constipation (up to 2 wk). Miralax is a drink prepared by mixing a powder with 240 mL (8 oz) of water.
E.Nonabsorbable sugars such as lactulose and sorbitol may be useful. Furthermore, they are usually acceptable for long-term use. However, they usually produce crampy abdominal pain, diarrhea, and electrolyte imbalance.
F.Cisapride (Propulsid) may work if you have constipation caused by slow fecal movement. However, it has been withdrawn from US markets because it may cause lethal irregular heartbeats.
Your doctor will treat any underlying diseases (intestinal obstruction, anal fissure, hemorrhoids, and bowel cancer).
G.If you have irritable bowel syndrome, you should stop smoking and avoid coffee and milk-containing foods. A food diary may help to identify foods that seem to worsen symptoms.
H.Thyroxin will be prescribed if the doctor determines through clinical and laboratory tests that you have an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

Homeopathy : Wide scope in Constipation

Homeopathy has  811 medicines for constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Hemorrhoids, Fissure, Pregnancy related constipation, constipation caused by medication for another diseases(side effect of other therapies), constipation in Bottle fed babies and co existing symptoms as headache,recurring ulcers in mouth,bad smell in mouth,lack of appetite,headache with constipation are permanently curable by Homeopathy.

Homeopathy treats on basis of individual symptoms and signs ,habits, behavior and chronicity of disease. Homeopathic medicines not make a patient Dependent on them but slowly try to regularize the system. Constipation is permanently curable by Homeopathic medicines.

Detail Indications of some common Homeopathic medicines are given on another page here.

A Case of Constipation Cured by Homeopathic Medicines is available here.

An historical article on  
How we can Prevent Our self from Constipation?

1.Develop regular bowel habits. Set aside time after breakfast to visit the toilet.
2.Do not ignore the desire to defecate. Answer nature’s call to empty your bowel as soon as possible.
3.Eat a well-balanced diet that includes wheat grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Recent evidence suggests that increasing dietary fiber intake may help some people with hard stools but is not necessarily of benefit to every person with constipation.
4.Drink plenty of water and fruit juice.
5.Exercise regularly. Walking is especially important.
6.Avoid intake of medications that may cause constipation. Your doctor will help you in this regard.
7.The use of laxatives can actively make a constipation problem worse in the long run and should be avoided.


S K Kalra said...

greatly indebted for systematic and kind information on constipation.I liked the methodical description. Thanks.

tapas das said...

I am suffering from a diseases---- OBSTRUCTED DEFECATION SYNDROME in RECTUM. Plz tell the treatment procedure.....

Dr. Ravindra S. Mann said...

Please follow the link "Consult Us", for consultation.