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Constipation is a gastrointestinal condition that is common and occurs when your bowel movements become less frequent or more difficult to pass. Web MD defines constipation as having a bowel movement 3 times or less a week. Constipation can also occur if you have hard stools 25 percent of the time, incomplete emptying of the bowel more than 25 percent of the time or straining during bowel movements more than 25 percent of the time. With constipation, you can find it difficult to pass stools and strain during a bowel movement, which causes pain and discomfort, bloating and abdominal pain.

Causes and Risk Factors of Constipation

Constipation is more commonly caused by irregular bowel movements as opposed to a structural or permanent problem. Some causes of being constipated include not drinking enough water, not eating enough fiber, a disruption in your diet such as from traveling, not being physically active, eating a lot of dairy products, emotional stress, hemorrhoids, hypothyroidism, using laxatives, also known as stool softeners too often, depression, eating disorder, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colon cancer, not having a bowel movement immediately when you need to, pregnancy, taking antacids with calcium or aluminum or having a condition such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or Parkinsons Disease.

In some people, constipation is caused by not having proper muscle function or nerve function in the bowels. Some medications also cause constipation including antispasmodic drugs, antidepressants, anticonvulsant drugs, iron tablets, pain killers and diuretics. If you take these drugs, you should speak to your doctor about avoiding constipation and continuing to get the drugs you need.

Symptoms, Signs and Testsof Constipation

The signs and symptoms for constipation vary and may be different for everyone. Overall, a change in your bowel movements and frequency can be considered constipation. Consult your doctor if you have a change in bowel movements especially if it is becoming painful or uncomfortable. Some common symptoms of constipation are not being able to start or finish a bowel movement, not emptying completely during a bowel movement, passing stool less frequently, difficulty or pain passing stools, having hard stool after straining, excessive gas or abdominal pain, obstructed defecation or a distended abdomen.

Constipation is not particularly serious, but one should certainly see a doctor regarding the condition. Some situations especially need discussing with a medical professional. For example, if the constipation comes on suddenly, you are experiencing painful gas or abdominal discomfort, rectal pain, diarrhea alongside the constipation, unexplained weight loss or very thin stool; you should see your doctor. For your child, call the pediatrician if they go three days without a stool and are irritable, is constipated at younger than two months old or is not having bowel movements to resist toilet training.

For most people seeking help from their doctor, diagnosis requires a physical examination and a series of questions. For others, tests are performed to find underlying causes of frequent constipation, such as blood tests, complete blood count (CBC), upper GI series, abdomen x-ray, barium studies, and colonoscopy and to check for an obstructed defecation or colonic inertia. Other tests include an x-ray of the anorectal area, examination of the rectum and lower colon and an evaluation of the anal sphincter muscle function.

Treatment, Drugs and Preventionof Constipation

Constipation can have a serious underlying reason behind it. Thats why its especially important to consult a medical professional if youre experiencing symptoms of constipation. Most cases of constipation can be prevented with plenty of liquids, regular exercise and a balanced diet. If a medication youre taking is causing constipation, consult your doctor and ask if there is an alternative treatment.

If you are feeling pain or discomfort from the constipation, it is important to speak to a doctor. Make an appointment to be diagnosed and find out if they suggest other treatment options for your specific situation. Avoid using a stool softener until you have first spoken to your doctor. Remember to call your doctor and seek medical care if you have pain, are losing weight without dieting, have rectal pain or your constipation lasts more than two weeks. Your doctor may give you medications, fiber supplements, a mild stool softener or treat any underlying conditions.