Constipation is passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, usually fewer than three times a week. People who are constipated may find it difficult and painful to have a bowel movement. Other symptoms of constipation include feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish.
At one time or another, almost everyone gets constipated. Poor diet and lack of exercise are often the causes. In most cases, constipation is temporary and not serious. To understand constipation, it helps to know how the colon (large intestine) works. As food moves through the colon, it absorbs water while forming waste products, or stools. Muscle contractions in the colon push the stool toward the rectum. By the time stool reaches the rectum, it is solid because most of the water has been absorbed.
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The hard and dry stools of constipation occur when the colon absorbs too much water or if the colon’s muscle contractions are slow or sluggish, causing the stool to move through the colon too slowly.
Common causes of constipation are:
Not enough fibre in the diet
Not drinking enough water
Lack of exercise
Irritable bowel syndrome
Changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, older age, and travel
Abuse of laxatives
Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
Specific diseases such as stroke
Problems with the colon and rectum
Problems with intestinal function (chronic idiopathic constipation)
Pain medications (especially narcotics).
Antacids that contain aluminum and calcium.
Blood pressure medications (calcium channel blockers).
Some people have chronic constipation that does not respond to standard treatment. This rare condition, known as idiopathic (of unknown origin) chronic constipation may be related to problems with intestinal function such as problems with hormonal control or with nerves and muscles in the colon, rectum, or anus. Functional constipation occurs in both children and adults and is most common in women.