Constipation is one of the most common complaints of patients who seek medical care. Constipation is often thought as nothing but a minor disorder that can cause discomfort and will eventually go away by itself. Even medical institutions think of it as nothing serious when, in fact, it could lead to severe, and even life-threatening conditions if left untreated or if not treated properly.
This article will educate you about the health risks associated with chronic constipation, why it occurs, and how to get relief from it. If you suffer from constipation at present, keep reading as we have outlined handy information about this disorder.
Here are seven serious risk factors of chronic constipation:
1. Hemorrhoids: Knowing When to Call the Doctor
Hemorrhoids are inflamed veins in your anus, which can appear for many reasons. Chronic constipation for one can cause of hemorrhoids. When you have to strain constantly when passing hard, dry stools, this can put pressure on the veins of your anus, causing them to swell.
Hemorrhoids appear as either external or internal. Here’s the main differences between the two:
- An external hemorrhoid is located outside of the rectum around the anus area and is often quite painful. It can prolapse or slip out of place when you pass stools. Blood clots may form, causing another painful condition called thrombosis.
- An internal hemorrhoid, on the other hand, is found inside your rectum. You cannot see and feel it, but you may notice it when it bleeds as you pass stools. Internal hemorrhoids can prolapse too, and you may feel them as moist and tender pads of skin. A hemorrhoid prolapse is different from rectal prolapse, which we will discuss later on in this article.
The most common symptoms of hemorrhoids include:
- A distended lump on the anus which can be painful.
- Inflammation of the anal region.
- Bleeding or blood in stool.
- Itching and pain.
- Feces may leak without your control.
The symptoms vary and may range from mild to severe. Doctors classify hemorrhoids into four main types:
- First-Degree Hemorrhoids – Bleeds but does not protrude outside the anus.
- Second-Degree Hemorrhoids – Prolapses when you pass stools, but returns to place right afterwards.
- Third-Degree Hemorrhoids – Prolapses and needs to be returned to its place manually.
- Fourth-Degree Hemorrhoids – Prolapses but cannot be returned to place manually.
Normally, hemorrhoids symptoms recede without the need for treatment, but topical creams are available to alleviate the pain or discomfort. If you experience bleeding, contact your doctor promptly.
The next risk factor is painful and may require medical help.
2. Anal Fissures: Experiencing the Pain and Itching
An anal fissure is a torn tissue in the lining of your anus that can cause pain and bleeding with every bowel movement. It can result from passing large and solid stools during a bowel movement. Sometimes, you may also feel spasms in your anal sphincter or the muscular ring at the end of the anus.
Symptoms of anal fissure include:
- Moderate to severe pain during bowel movement that may last up to several hours.
- Blood in the stool or on the toilet paper after a bowel movement.
- Itching around the anus.
- Visible cracks of skin around the anal area.
These symptoms usually go away on their own after four to six weeks, but if the pain and bleeding persist, you may need to undergo medical treatment.
The next problem of constipation is something you should address promptly.
3. Fecal Impaction: Reasons You Don’t Have to Suffer in Silence
Fecal impaction is the hardening of stools in your intestine, which makes it difficult for you to expel them through the normal contraction process. This can result in chronic constipation, because it can cause the accumulation of new waste as the compressed feces block the way, which in turn aggravates constipation.
Symptoms of fecal impaction include:
- Abdominal Discomfort and Pain
- Leaking of Liquid Stool
- Loss of Appetite
- Unexplained Weight Loss
When fecal impaction is severe, you may experience:
- Rapid Heart Rate
- Urinary Incontinence
If you experience these following symptoms, see your doctor immediately. These are serious symptoms that need immediate medical attention.
Medical treatments for fecal impaction often include:
- Water irrigation via sigmoidoscopy.
- Taking laxatives to ease the strain.
- Suppositories to help to soften stools.
- Mini-enema, the insertion of liquid medicine in the anus.
These treatments encourage bowel movement by softening the stools and lubricating the rectal area. The next constipation issue can be quite upsetting and serious.
4. Rectal Prolapse: What You Need to Know
Rectal prolapse occurs when your rectal tissues, located at the lowest part of the large intestine, slide out of its position or protrude outside your anus. Chronic constipation is common in patients with rectal prolapse, and this may be due to constant straining that puts pressure on the rectum.
There are three types of rectal prolapses:
- Partial Prolapse – Only the lining of the rectum protrudes outside the anus.
- Complete Prolapse – The whole rectal wall slides out the anus, which can become permanent.
- Internal Prolapse – A part of the rectum slides out of place over to another part and not outside the anus.
Rectal prolapse may progress gradually. At first, the rectal tissue may return to its normal place, up until you have to push it back manually, especially after a bowel movement. Once the rectal prolapse becomes apparent, you may experience fecal incontinence with liquid or solid stools and the uncontrollable passing of gas.
The condition rarely requires urgent medical attention, but it can make you uncomfortable and feel embarrassed, which can negatively impact your quality of life. If you opt for medical treatment, surgery would be your only option after a thorough medical examination.
If you choose to delay treatment or leave it untreated, a rectal prolapse can result in the following complications over time:
- Increased size of rectal prolapse.
- Occurrence of prolapse even when standing.
- Permanent fecal incontinence.
Sometimes, patients with rectal prolapse complain of feeling like sitting on a ball, even when the prolapse has returned to its place.
The next problem of constipation can be embarrassing, but it is treatable.
5. Urinary Incontinence: A Surprising Side Effect You Can Control
Urinary incontinence is the inability to stop urine flow due to loss of bladder control. When you cough, laugh or sneeze, urine may leak. In a worse case, you may suddenly feel a strong urge to urinate, and most likely you will not even reach the comfort room.
Urinary incontinence can occur for several reasons, including chronic constipation. When you constantly strain, your pelvic floor muscles weaken, resulting in loss of bladder control. Fortunately, you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles through therapy and exercises like Kegels.
Urinary incontinence is a non-serious condition, but it can be embarrassing and may get in the way of performing daily activities. The good news is, you have a variety of options to deal with this issue, so don’t be too embarrassed to discuss it with your doctor.
This next problem is the scariest one of all.
6. Colorectal Cancer: Things You Should Understand About This Scary Side Effect of Constipation
A study entitled “Risk of Developing Colorectal Cancer and Benign Neoplasm in Patients with Chronic Constipation” was initiated to determine the link between chronic constipation and colorectal cancer or CRC.
Participated by thousands of people with and without chronic constipation (CC), the results showed that colorectal cancer is more common in patients with CC, compared to those who were CC free. The risk for CRC in CC patients is 1.78 times higher, and it remained high after excluding potential factors that may interfere with achieving a more accurate finding.
Several studies of the same nature showed otherwise, but experts say the link between chronic constipation and colorectal cancer deserves further investigation.
The next condition can also become life-threatening.
7. Sigmoid Volvulus: Know the Symptoms to Save Your Life
Sigmoid Volvulus, also referred to as idiopathic megacolon, is the formation of a huge sigmoid loop full of fecal substances enlarged with gas. The loop twists on the base of the mesentery, creating an obstruction inside the colon. People with chronic constipation have a high risk of sigmoid volvulus, along with the elderly.
Symptoms of sigmoid volvulus include:
- Abdominal Pain
- Abdominal Distension
- Failure to Pass Gas or Stools
When severe, symptoms include:
- Increased Body Temperature
- Life Threatening Shock
Acute sigmoid volvulus means you must seek immediate medical care, because if you delay treatment, it could result in more serious conditions, such as colonic ischemia, fecal peritonitis and colonic perforation. It can be treated successfully with decompression or the untwisting of the bowel with a sigmoidoscopy, or through surgery.
All of these risk factors sound terrible, but do not fear. We have gathered some information to help you understand your CC, as well as ways to avoid and treat it.
Subtle Symptoms: Do You Suffer From Chronic Constipation?
Chronic constipation is not determined by how many times you empty your bowels in a day because bowel movement frequency normally varies from person to person. What is normal for you may not be the same for other people. Rather, chronic constipation is a set of complex symptoms that includes:
- Decreased frequency of bowel movements. For example, from emptying your bowels once a day, to only going three times a week.
- Dry and hard stools.
- Excessive straining when passing stools.
- Feeling of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement.
- A sensation that your stools cannot pass due to an obstruction.
You can easily sort out the signs indicative of chronic constipation by determining what is normal for you and what is not.
So, what factors do contribute to chronic constipation? Read on to know the real deal.
What Are the Causes of Chronic Constipation?
Some people are more at risk of constipation than others, especially the elderly and pregnant women. When you get older, your body processes slow down, including digestion. This causes constipation, along with decreased physical activity, which is another factor.
Pregnant women, on the other hand, have increased levels of progesterone, a hormone that relaxes the smooth muscles in the body, including the gastrointestinal tract. This, turn, slows down digestion and the elimination of wastes.
The definite cause of constipation remains a mystery, as medical science has yet to unravel the link between the gut and brain, but according to health experts, you may experience constipation for several reasons. It can be due to a medical condition you are suffering from or the medications you take. But, most often, your lifestyle is the major factor.
You Can Proactively Manage Your Health: Constipation as a Lifestyle Disorder
Constipation can be troublesome, and even dangerous to your health; however, your lifestyle habits can go a long way to help the processes in your digestive system work efficiently. Here are some steps you can take to start feeling better:
1. Watch What You Eat – Your diet can slow down your digestion and bowel movements, but luckily what you eat can aid bowel movements, which we will tackle in the treatment section. Here are some diet-related factors that you can address to avoid foods that complicate constipation:
- Avoid a low-fiber diet.
- Reduce your intake of dairy products.
- Limit foods that are high in fat and sugar.
- Drink more water and other fluids.
- Watch out for too much caffeine and alcohol.
2. Get Lots of Healthy Exercise – Exercise stimulates the muscles all over your body, and this includes the layer of muscles in your digestive system. Inactivity puts you at a higher risk for constipation, because it can inhibit the muscle contractions necessary when digesting food and eliminating fecal waste.
3. Pay Attention to Your Urges to Go – Many of us are guilty of ignoring the urge to go to the bathroom, especially when we in the middle of doing something important, or when we are in a place with no restrooms nearby. Delaying bowel movements encourages the absorption of water from the stools, making them hard and dry.
4. Stick to Your Regular Routine – Sudden changes in your regular routine can upset your internal body clock, which is responsible for rhythmic contractions during bowel movements. This can happen when you travel to a different place, especially in another time zone, or when you shift to new working hours.
If you suffer from constipation due to an unhealthy lifestyle, you can effectively regain normal bowel movements by implementing healthy changes. Give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.
The next section could save your life.
Constipation as a Medical-related Disorder
If your constipation remains a problem no matter what you do, it could be a sign of an underlying condition, such as:
- Slow transit of food in the colon.
- Rectal or anal obstructions, like hemorrhoids or a rectal prolapse.
- Some type of hernia.
- A chronic digestive disorder like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS.
- A rectocele, which is a female condition.
- A tumor, cyst or other growth.
- An endocrine system disorders, such as hypothyroidism, diabetes or hypopituitarism.
- A central nervous system disorder like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or stroke.
For these reasons, you should not feel embarrassed to bring up your constipation problems with your doctor, especially when it is recurrent. You don’t want to die of embarrassment, do you?
The medications you take for alleviating your medical conditions can also contribute to slow bowel movement. These include:
- Iron Supplements
- Calcium Channel Blockers
- Non-Magnesium Antacids
You may also suffer from constipation after undergoing surgery or after being bedridden for a long time, which can alter normal functions in and out your body.
Tests and Diagnosis to Help You Pinpoint the Real Problem
Achieving a diagnosis for your constipation not only opens your options for treatments, it can also help rule out any possible underlying medical conditions. You may need to undergo several tests, which include:
1. Colonic Transit Study – You will swallow a marked capsule, which will be visible on X-rays to determine how fast food moves through your colon.
2. Defecography – Your doctor will place barium, a soft paste, in your rectum. Barium will attach to your stools and will leave marks, which will be visible on X-rays. This will help determine prolapse and muscle function problems.
3. Sigmoidoscopy – A tiny, flexible and lighted tube will be inserted into your anus to examine your rectum and the lower part of your colon.
4. Colonoscopy – A slender and flexible tube equipped with cameras will be inserted into your anus to examine the entire rectum and colon.
5. Anorectal Manometry – Your doctor will insert a tube with a balloon on the tip to be inflated once inside your rectum. Your doctor will pull out the tube to measure muscle synchronization during bowel movements.
Diagnosing chronic constipation can be a long process, because it involves ruling out other possible causes, such as one of the underlying medical conditions we listed above.
You Have Options: Treatments and Drugs You Can Try
Many people often make the mistake of self-medicating, especially with common health disorders, such as constipation. Taking laxatives may be the quickest and easiest way to relieve constipation, but it has ill-effects too, which you will discover later on.
Do not make the same mistake. If you experience perplexing and persistent changes in your bowel movements and if it starts to affect your quality of life, seek help from a medical professional for treatment.
Treatment of constipation may vary depending on the cause. Initially, your doctor will recommend altering your lifestyle to promote the faster passing of stools, but if symptoms remain, your doctor may prescribe medications or advise you to undergo surgery.
To alleviate the symptoms of chronic constipation, your doctor may recommend you the following:
1. Embrace a high-fiber diet.
Dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble, aids in digestion and the passing of stools. Add fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet. Slowly up your intake day by day, though, because a sudden increase in fiber intake may result to bloating and gas. Another thing, if you increase your fiber intake, you also need to increase your water intake, as this can make your stools drier and harder. Bowel movements can even become painful.
2. Get physical and stay that way.
Physical activities stimulate the muscles, including those involve digestion and bowel movements. Strive to exercise every day or, at least be active through simple activities such as walking. If your schedule will not allow you to take a trip to the gym or to perform an hour-long exercise, find other ways to get moving, such as using the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further away and walking to the office or store.
3. Learn to love water – and lots of it.
Water helps your food pass through the colon easily, and it also keeps your intestines supple. Not only that, when you are dehydrated, your body fills in its fluid needs by absorbing more water from the food you eat resulting in drier and harder stools. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks do not count as alternative fluids because both drinks can dehydrate the body.
4. Make trips to the bathroom a priority.
Whenever you feel the urge to empty your bowel, go to the bathroom right away. When you delay your bowel movements, you allow the absorption of more water in your stool, making it dry and solid. Make a habit of emptying your bowels in the morning, because muscle contractions are strongest at this time.
5. Take laxatives with caution.
Laxatives relieve constipation by drawing water into the intestines. However, constant use of laxatives can make you dependent on it every time you have to empty your bowels and may even aggravate constipation once you stop taking them.
6. Add healthy oils to your diet.
Mineral oil, for example, can aid faster passing of stool. You can also use olive oil as a home remedy for constipation. You will need to drink two tablespoons of pure and raw extra virgin olive oil once a day. Drink one first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and an hour before you go to sleep at night.
7. Try biofeedback training.
Biofeedback is a therapy aimed at restoring normal body functions. When it comes to easing constipation, biofeedback therapy involves the insertion of a tube into your rectum to determine muscle relaxation. The device will measure muscle tension and relaxation and will transmit signals through beeping or lighting. A therapist will assist you throughout the therapy until you can control your pelvic floor muscles.
8. Talk to your doctor about surgery.
Surgery is usually your definitive option if all other treatments fail, but is rarely necessary. Surgery often involves removal of the part of your colon.
So, what’s the bottom line? Constipation is a common digestive disorder, but if you leave chronic constipation untreated, it can lead to serious health complications for you. Therefore, if you are constantly constipated, discuss your symptoms with a medical professional right away. In the meantime, start making some lifestyle changes mentioned in this article to see if you start to feel better in a few weeks.