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Constipation is a medical term, which applies to irregular or hard to pass bowel movements. According to widely accepted guidelines, the condition is diagnosed, when the stool is being excreted less than 3 times within 7 days. Whereas severe constipation is described by less than one stool per week. Although the frequency of bowel movement varies, depending on individual organism’s properties, the recommended intervals between them should not last more than 3 days. According to Athens University Medical School, the constipation is a very common symptom, that occurs regardless of age in 2-30% of all people, whereas the prevalence rises with age. When uncared, it can even lead to life-threatening consequences, like fecal impaction.
Constipation is frequently caused by reduced transit in certain parts of intestine. However the blockage of stool usually appears in the area of colon. Such disorder may appear as a consequence of:
- Dietary imbalances, e.g. low intake of fibre or fluids and excessive use of iron supplements.
- Diseases, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism or colon cancer.
- Use of certain medications, since many substances lead to this specific side effect. They may include for instance:
- Prolonged stress
- Hormonal disorders
- Central nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.
There are several lifestyle adjustments, that can be done in order to mitigate the constipation. At first, the patient should take advantage of increased intake of fluids, unless one have been told by the specialist not to do so. Afterwards, it is highly recommended to involve additional fibre-rich products into the diet. The best possible sources include fruits, vegetables and wheat. However, some individuals might also need a dietary supplement, since in certain incidents it is difficult to suffice required amount of fibre. Interestingly, some studies claim, that physical activity can be beneficial in terms of constipation treatment as well.
If simple methods have little or no effect, it is recommended to begin professional approach. The most common method include administration of laxatives (purgatives), which tend to loosen the stools. Those substances may be based on e.g. magnesium hydroxide, docusate, lactulose or sorbitol. Nevertheless, in more serious incidents physical intervention might be required. It is done in order to manually remove the accumulated stool, which resist to aforementioned treatment options.
Although the outcome has high success rate, constipation may lead to serious complications without proper treatment or if neglected. One of the most common repercussions include rectal fissures or complete prolapse, haemorrhoids, abdominal pain and vomiting. The condition might as well evolve into fecal impaction, which afterwards leads to a bowel obstruction. Such ailment is characterized by blockage of intestines and is considered as life-threatening, especially when 236,000 fatal cases in 2013 alone are taken into account.