Roughly 42 million Americans struggle with constipation, accounting for nearly 2 billion dollars in emergency room care annually. You probably already know that irregular bowel movements are usually no cause for concern. But what about if the problem becomes chronic or particularly intense? At what point do you contact your doctor about constipation?
When to See a Doctor
Constipation is usually nothing to worry about. But on occasion, constipation can be a symptom of a more serious condition. Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke, lupus, thyroid disease, and countless other conditions can produce chronic constipation. For deciding when to see a doctor for constipation, a good rule of thumb is about three weeks. Your visit can help ensure some kind of underlying condition isn’t at fault.
But when is constipation an emergency? You’ll want to skip the waiting period if you notice blood in your stool, go a week without using the restroom, have never been constipated before, or are losing weight unintentionally. While it’s not common, constipation can be caused by intestinal blockage. Severe abdominal pain, vomiting, inability to pass gas, and severe bloating may suggest a bowel obstruction. These are signs of a constipation emergency.
Preparing to Talk to Your Doctor
Your doctor may ask questions about your about your diet, eating habits, stool consistency, bowel consistency, and when the constipation started. You can provide better answers by taking observation of these things in the time leading up to seeing your doctor.
For most people, the best treatment for chronic constipation is diet and lifestyle changes, but some medications can help. Depending on the source of the problem, doctors occasionally prescribe blood pressure medications, iron supplements, anticonvulsants, and pain relievers.
Causes of Constipation
Constipation is usually the result of a person not drinking enough water. But it can also occur if the muscles responsible for contracting your intestines are too slow to push stool from the body. A sedentary lifestyle, a poor diet, and inadequate fluid intake are the source of most cases.
Most gas is caused by swallowed air and digested food. In the case of swallowed air, chewing gum, eating quickly, and using a drinking straw can all lead to gas. In the case of your diet, gas is the result of bacteria fermenting undigested carbohydrates within your digestive tract. That’s why food our bodies aren’t good at digesting, like food with high-fiber content, tend to produce gas.
Luckily, the most common causes of constipation are easy to fix. You can start by cutting back on caffeine, and be certain you’re drinking enough water. Then add fiber to your diet, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In the interests of comfort, you may want to add the fiber gradually, giving the body more time to adapt. And as always, be sure to get the amount of exercise recommended by your doctor.
Changing your diet and exercise habits can be tough, but don’t take the risk of toughing it out through constipation. Unchecked constipation can lead to rectal prolapse, hemorrhoids, and similar serious complications. You don’t have to suffer through excessive gas and constipation. Even small lifestyle changes can go a long way to solving the problem.