Do you have friends, family members, or coworkers who often share their list of complaints with you? In an attempt to get sympathy, encouragement, or strangely brag about how awful their circumstances are, these “Negative Nancys” believe that misery loves company. But when was the last time they shared their bathroom woes with you? Most likely, never. Bowel movements—or lack thereof—don’t tend to make the list of verbal grievances. Yet, this is something that many people have in common since constipation is one of the most common GI issues in America. Over 42 million Americans report feeling “stopped up” on a regular basis. Yet no one talks about it. But we know it’s important to talk about poop. We want you to understand what causes constipation so that you know how to avoid it.
What Is Constipation?
An infrequent bowel movement, meaning you have less than three bowel movements during the week, is a top descriptor of constipation. Constipation is also described by difficulty passing a stool. When your stool is hard or lumpy or you feel that there is a blockage in your rectum, you are experiencing constipation. That “stopped up” feeling sometimes prevents you from completely emptying the stool which adds to the length of time you are constipated. It’s understandable why people don’t voice these feelings to friends and coworkers. But you should voice them to a GI doctor. By refusing to address constipation, you’re inviting a more serious gastrointestinal problem.
Common Causes of Constipation
Constipation is a side effect of many prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Antidepressants, sedatives, iron supplements, anticholinergics, and diuretics link to constipation. Be cautious of antacids that contain aluminum and using laxatives for a long period of time. Laxatives can damage the colon, inhibiting its ability to contract correctly.
Many cancer patients and people with severe pain take opioids. Opioid pain medication disrupts the digestive tract which causes constipation. Opioids can slow down your gut which leads to a host of intestinal problems. First, they make your intestine absorb too much water causing the stool to harden. Second, they encourage your sphincters to tighten which leads to the “stopped up” sensation. And third, opioids send mixed signals to the nerves in your intestine, preventing waste from moving through your digestive tract.
Constipation is also common when there are sudden changes in your schedule or diet. Hormonal changes may also cause constipation which makes it a recurring symptom during pregnancy. As you get older, your muscle tone and intestinal activity decrease, leading to constipation. While aging is inevitable, there are several steps you can take to make bowel movements easier.
You can reverse constipation, and prevent it from occurring, by drinking plenty of water and eating enough fiber. Fiber is the key ingredient to stools that are easy to pass. Fiber absorbs water and helps the stool become larger and softer. Regular exercise is another important step in reversing constipation. When you keep your muscles strong and active, you’re strengthening your abdominal wall—a key player in eliminating waste. The next time you have a stubborn bowel movement, get your body moving. It’s also important to know that constipation may be a sign of a more serious or chronic GI problem like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). So it’s important to talk to your GI doctor when you experience long-term or frequently recurring constipation.
If you’re looking for a GI specialist in the Lubbock area, look no further than Dr. Sameer Islam. Don’t suffer through constipation without speaking up. If you’ve increased your fiber intake and exercise regimen but continue to feel constipated, schedule an appointment today. Your bowel movements are too important to ignore.