What is constipation? Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention

Constipation is a common gastrointestinal complaint, leading to 2.5 million doctor visits per year. It occurs when a person has fewer than three bowel movements per week or experiences difficulty in passing stool. Approximately 16 percent of the population suffers from constipation symptoms. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for constipation.

Causes of Constipation:

Constipation is often associated with factors such as a low-fiber diet, inadequate water intake, sedentary lifestyle, hormonal changes, and certain health conditions. Common symptoms of constipation include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, difficulty in passing stool, and irregular bowel movements.

Symptoms of Constipation:

  • Hard, dry, or lumpy stool
  • Straining or pain during bowel movements
  • Feeling of incomplete evacuation
  • Sensation of rectal blockage
  • Inability to empty the rectum without assistance

Risk Factors for Constipation:

Certain factors increase the risk of developing constipation, including disorders of the pelvic floor and delayed bowel emptying following colon surgery, irritable bowel syndrome, other gastrointestinal issues, certain medications and supplements, changing routines (such as travel, pregnancy, aging), lack of fiber, dehydration, sedentary lifestyle, habit of ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement, and misuse of laxatives or enemas. Additionally, various medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, tumors or obstructions, celiac disease, colorectal polyps, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and nerve damage can also cause constipation.

Diagnosis of Constipation:

To diagnose constipation, your doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical examination, which may include a gentle rectal examination using a gloved and lubricated finger. They will inquire about your medication and supplement usage, as interactions with other medications are a common cause of constipation. Your doctor will also discuss your diet and physical activity level to ensure you are consuming enough water and fiber, as the absence of these can contribute to constipation. Depending on the severity and duration of constipation and associated symptoms, your doctor may recommend routine blood tests, urine and stool examinations, and in rare cases, diagnostic tests such as colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or imaging tests.

Treatment and Management:

Managing constipation involves lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medications or other treatments. Simple lifestyle modifications, such as increasing water intake, consuming fiber-rich foods, and regular physical activity, can have positive effects on constipation. Your doctor may also recommend specific medications or treatment options based on your condition.

Prevention of Constipation:

To prevent constipation, it is important to pay attention to your body’s signals and respond promptly when you feel the need to have a bowel movement. Avoid rushing or straining during bowel movements and allow yourself to relax. Incorporating a Zen-like approach into your bathroom routine can be helpful.

Complications of Constipation:

Constipation is usually an acute condition that occurs suddenly, such as during travel, and lasts for a short period. However, when it becomes chronic, it is important to be cautious and consult your doctor. Chronic constipation can lead to complications such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal prolapse, or fecal impaction.


Constipation is a common digestive problem that can significantly impact daily life. Understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment options is essential for managing this condition effectively. By making necessary lifestyle changes, seeking medical advice, and being proactive in your approach, you can alleviate the discomfort and potential complications associated with constipation.

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