One thing all humans have in common is the need to eliminate waste material from our bodies. The solid waste product is known as feces or sometimes stool. It’s what is left over after our digestive system has utilized all the nutrients in the food we’ve eaten.
Feces moves through the colon, also known as the bowels, and exits the body through the rectum and anus. Feces elimination is called having a bowel movement by some, defecation by others. Most people believe that one bowel movement a day is both normal and desirable. This is usually called “being regular.” Not having one a day is known as “being irregular” or constipated.
Being regular isn’t the same for everyone. Some perfectly healthy people have more than one bowel movement a day, while others have one every two or three days.
Constipation occurs when feces moves too slowly through the colon. “Too slowly” means the person is having less than three bowel movements a week, or less than one a week in severe cases. Some also define constipation as feces that is hard and painful to eliminate, or having to strain to defecate.
Constipation is caused by a variety of factors, including lifestyle, medication, disease.
Like most ailments, constipation often results from what we do or don’t do each day. If our diets are lacking in adequate fiber, if we don’t exercise, if we smoke, or if we drink to excess, our bowels are going to register a complaint. Chronic depression can also lead to constipation.
Not drinking enough water is another constipation cause, as is excessive consumption of dairy products. Although the urge to defecate is usually hard to ignore, it can sometimes be postponed. Delaying defecation frequently can be a cause of constipation.
A long list of prescription drugs can cause constipation. Heading the list is painkillers and antidepressants. Other culprits include heart medicines and some supplements. Ironically, long-term use of laxatives is another constipation cause.
Consult with a medical professional about laxatives or stool softeners if your constipation is caused by medication. Some products have negative interactions with certain medications.
Various diseases affect the colon and pelvic area. These can include irritable bowel syndrome, weakening of the nerves or muscles, and hemorrhoids. Cancer, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, diabetes, and stroke can all affect the ability to defecate.
Depression and eating disorders, such as anorexia, can lead to constipation.
Pregnancy isn’t a disease, but hormonal changes often cause constipation in pregnant women.
While it is easy to self–treat most constipation, you need to consult a medical professional when there is a sudden change in bowel movements, severe pain, other symptoms such as vomiting, bleeding, or if there’s no improvement within a few days of treatment.