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Constipation is one of the most common medical complaints in the United States. Constipation can occur at any age, and is more common among individuals who resist the urge to move their bowels at their body's signal. This often happens when children start school or enter daycare and feel shy about asking permission to use the bathroom.
Constipation is more common in women than in men and is especially apt to occur during pregnancy. Age alone does not increase the frequency of constipation, but elderly people (especially women) are more likely to suffer from constipation.
Although this condition is rarely serious, it can lead to:
- Bowel obstruction
- Chronic constipation
- Hemorrhoids (a mass of dilated veins in swollen tissue around the anus)
- Hernia (a protrusion of an organ through a tear in the muscle wall)
- Spastic colitis (irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterized by alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation)
- Laxative dependency
Chronic constipation is often cured by natural remedies: A diet with natural fiber from fruits and vegetables, at least eight cups of water a day, and exercise -- plus maybe an occasional laxative from the drug store. But if natural remedies and over-the-counter laxatives such as Metamucil, Citrucel, Colace, and Milk of Magnesia don't help, it may be time to ask your doctor about prescription drugs.
Chronic constipation may be a symptom of colorectal cancer, depression, diabetes, diverticulosis (small pouches in the muscles of the large intestine), lead poisoning, or Parkinson's disease.
In someone who is elderly or disabled, constipation may be a symptom of bowel impaction, a more serious condition in which feces are trapped in the lower part of the large intestine. A doctor should be called if an elderly or disabled person is constipated for a week or more or if a child seems to be constipated.
A doctor should be notified whenever constipation occurs after starting a new prescription, vitamin, or mineral supplement or is accompanied by blood in the stools, changes in bowel patterns, or fever and abdominal pain.
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