According to board-certified internist and gastroenterologist Jay W. Marks, constipation is defined as passing fewer than three stools per week, while severe constipation occurs when a person passes fewer than one stool per week. Frequency or rarity is determined by the speed at which stool moves through the colon. In addition to their bowel movements being less frequent, those suffering from constipation may also experience hard stools, uncomfortable/painful bowel movements and/or a sense that the bowels have not emptied sufficiently.
Constipation can be caused by a variety of factors. It could be a side effect of a new medication you are on or that an old medication is affecting you in a new way. Overuse of laxatives is another possibility, or hormonal imbalances may be to blame. Or it could be caused by something as simple as dehydration, your diet being too low in fibre or from not getting enough exercise.
Virtually everyone will experience constipation at some point in his or her lifetime, so in the majority of cases, constipation is not serious. However, some neurological disorders, systemic disorders and metabolic and endocrine conditions can cause constipation. It is worth consulting your doctor if constipation is sudden in onset, severe, worsening or has been present along with other symptoms, such as weight loss.
Treating constipation has a lot to do with understanding its underlying cause. If symptoms are brought on by a low amount of fibre in your diet, increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables and fibre-rich grains could prove helpful. If dehydration is the culprit, consuming more water may do the trick. Vigorous exercise may also help to get your colon moving again. If none of these natural remedies solves the problem, certain medications can be taken to treat constipation. Emollient laxatives, lubricant laxatives and saline laxatives are just some of the options available. Laxatives can affect other medications or have negative effects on the body, so it is best to speak to your doctor before beginning any treatment.
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