Constipation is a common problem that makes it hard to have bowel movements. In general, constipation refers to passing less than three bowel motions a week. Many people, however, have the sensation of constipation in that they are passing hard stools, feeling that their bowels haven’t completely emptied or having excessive straining.
Here, expert gastroenterologist Dr Aathavan Loganayagam explains the possible causes of chronic constipation, how it is diagnosed and when it may be time to see a specialist in your case.
What is the cause of constipation?
The most common cause of constipation is related to a low fibre diet. However, there are many other causes of constipation, which include medications (such as Codeine) and medical conditions such as diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
What other problems can constipation cause?
Longstanding constipation and straining may lead to other medical problems such as haemorrhoids, anal fissures (tears in the skin around the back passage) or diverticulosis.
Do I need to see a doctor?
As constipation is a common symptom, your local doctor will be able to guide you through some simple measures such as dietary modification (increase in fibre intake), increased fluid intake, and/or increased physical activity.
A consultation with your gastroenterologist is recommended if you have any of the following:
- A persistent change in bowel habits
- Family history of bowel cancer
- Bleeding from the back passage
- Weight loss
- Persisting abdominal pain
Do I need to have any tests?
Testing for the cause of constipation is generally reserved for people who do not respond to the simple lifestyle measures or have any of the symptoms that are mentioned above.
Further investigation may include blood tests, X rays, colonoscopy, and/or specialised testing for bowel function.
What is the treatment for constipation?
The treatment for constipation depends on the cause. However, most people will notice an improvement with a change in diet or fibre intake. A high fibre diet is recommended. Laxatives may be helpful in the short term, although if ongoing medication for constipation is required, a medical consultation is recommended.
Dr Loganayagam is a leading London gastroenterologist who specialises in inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and bowel cancer. You can book an appointment to see him via his Top Doctor’s profile here.