What is chronic constipation?
Chronic constipation is the most common type of constipation and a disturbance of the normal function of the colon. It causes difficulty passing stools, and may also cause infrequent bowel movements. Normal bowel transit time is 24 hours - one bowel movement a day.
What are the symptoms of chronic constipation?
The symptoms include:
- Hard stools
- Trouble having bowel movements (straining to go)
- A sense of incomplete evacuation (That you still have to go)
- Needing help to empty the rectum - such as having to use a finger to remove stool
- Fewer than three bowel movements a week
- Bowel incontinence
- Lower abdominal discomfort
- Bad breath
- Smelly flatulence
What are the causes of chronic constipation?
Constipation occurs when the function of the colon, i.e. transporting stools to the rectum, is obstructed by:
- A low fibre intake
- A low intake of fluids
- Insufficient exercise
- Suppressing the urge to go to the toilet
- Colorectal diseases
- Slow metabolism
- Nerve diseases
- Mental disorders
- Side-effects from taking medications such as morphine, antidepressants, diuretics and iron supplements
Additionally, it is important to emphasise that constipation is very common when you are pregnant. This is due to the increased pressure on the colon induced by the foetus and the increased amount of the hormone progesterone which affects the colon’s movements negatively.
How is chronic constipation treated?
The treatment for constipation involves changing your diet and exercising habits. It is important to eat a diet with plenty of fibres and little fat. This means eating plenty of whole grain products, vegetables, fruit, fish and a little meat. It is recommended to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and to go to the toilet once the urge arises. In addition, you can treat constipation using an enema to start a bowel movement. It is also possible to treat constipation using medications that stimulate the bowel’s ability to transport stools.