I've got constipation several times a week. Is there anything I can do to prevent this? Is medication necessary? Should I go see a doctor?
Gary Lichtenstein, MD, professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania responds.
The situation you are describing is a frequent - though often not talked about - scenario. It is important to recognize that constipation is a common disorder that may have one or more causes and is very treatable.
Constipation is a common problem regardless of sex, age, or race. It is defined as infrequent, difficult, or incomplete bowel movements. The frequency of normal bowel movements range from three bowel movements per day, to three bowel movements per week. We define constipation as less than three bowel movements a week.
However, there are other symptoms that would be considered constipation as well including: a decrease in a person’s typical bowel movement frequency - it is not necessary to have less than three bowel movements in a week; having to strain when having a bowel movement; having hard, pellet-like stools; a sense of incomplete passage of stool with a bowel movement; and the need to use specific agents or methods to maintain bowel movement regularity such as: suppositories, enemas, oral laxatives or manual maneuvers such as digital stimulation or pelvic floor support.
There are many reasons why an individual may become constipated, ranging from lifestyle and dietary habits to behavioral issues and medication. The most common causes of constipation include: dehydration, lack of physical activity, medication side effects, inadequate fiber in the diet, irritable bowel syndrome, and travel or medical disease states – such as diabetes and spinal disease.
You should consult a medical professional if lifestyle, dietary, or behavioral changes do not relieve the constipation. Also, you should see a medical professional if you have “alarming symptoms,” such as blood in or on the stool, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, painful bowel movements, unexplained weight loss, associated nausea or vomiting, or constipation lasting more than three weeks.