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Here are some common terms that will help you understand constipation.1
is another name for the intestine. The small bowel and the large bowel are the small intestine and large intestine, respectively. The bowel is a tube-like structure that extends from the stomach to the anus. Some digestive processes are carried out in the bowel before food passes out of the body as waste.
is discharge of waste matter from your large intestine. A bowel movement is also known as bm, defecation, elimination.
are the most commonly recommended initial treatments for constipation. Bulk-forming laxatives may work in as quickly as 12 hours or take as long as three days to be effective. Some bulk-forming laxatives are derived from natural sources. Others are synthetic compounds. Both dissolve or swell in the intestines, lubricate and soften the stool, and make the passage of bowel movements easier and more frequent.
is the part of the large intestine that runs from the cecum to the rectum as a long hollow tube. Its main function is to remove water from digested food and let the remaining material, solid waste called stool, move through it to the rectum and leave the body through the anus.
is infrequent (and frequently incomplete) bowel movements. With constipation, stools are usually hard, dry, small in size, and difficult to eliminate.
Constipation Related to Lifestyle Changes
can be used to describe occasional constipation episodes that are thought to be the result of the way people live their daily lives—too much stress, too hectic a way of living, too-programmed daily living styles, eating poorly and not maintaining a good eating schedule, lack of exercise, and not consuming enough water throughout the day. Lifestyle constipation can be addressed through simple modification in one’s lifestyle and changes in personal behavior.
Constipation Related to Medical Conditions
is constipation that results from a range of medical conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hemorrhoids, surgery, and childbirth.^ These and other medical conditions frequently keep a person inactive (even bedridden), slow down their digestive system, can cause a temporary decrease in muscle tone in the abdominal area and contribute to occasional constipation.
Constipation Related to Medications
is constipation that results from taking medications for other conditions. Over 150 prescriptions and many commonly used over-the-counter medications can disrupt a person’s digestive system and lead to constipation. Antacids, antidepressants, pain relievers as well as medications used to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular conditions are a few of the classes of medicines associated with constipation. These medications can result in hard stools, straining when going to the bathroom, infrequent bowel movements, bloating and gas.
is the excessive loss of the body's water. Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract that cause vomiting may, for example, lead to dehydration. Dehydration can result in constipation.
is the complex process of turning the food you eat into the energy you need to survive. The digestion process also involves creating waste to be eliminated.
The digestive tract (or gut) is a long, twisting tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. It is made up of a series of muscles that coordinate the movement of food and other cells that produce enzymes to aid in the breakdown of food.
is the part of plants that cannot be digested, namely complex carbohydrates. Fiber is also known as bulk or roughage.
Complex carbohydrates from plants are rich in starch and fiber. Examples of plants that provide complex carbohydrates (fiber) are fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, and cereal grains. Simple carbohydrates, such as common table sugar, have no fiber.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Oats, beans, dried peas, and legumes are major sources of soluble fiber whereas whole wheat foods, bran, nuts, seeds, and the skin of some fruits and vegetables are major sources of insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber passes through the intestines almost unchanged.
is a dilated (enlarged) vein in the walls of the anus and sometimes around the rectum.
is one type of plant fiber found in the foods we eat. Insoluble fiber retains water in the colon, resulting in a softer and larger stool. The ingestion of insoluble fiber is used effectively in treating constipation resulting from poor dietary habits. Bran is particularly rich in insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber increases the movement of material through your digestive tract and increases your stool bulk. Sources of insoluble fiber are whole wheat foods, bran, nuts, seeds, and the skin of some fruits and vegetables.
Constipation and irregularity are often used interchangeably.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
is a common gastrointestinal disorder involving an abnormal condition of gut contractions (motility) characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, mucous in stools, and irregular bowel habits with alternating diarrhea and constipation, symptoms that tend to be chronic and to wax and wane over the years.
are medicines that increase the frequency and ease of passing bowel movements.
is the most common type of constipation. It happens to almost everyone at some time in their life and is temporary and usually not serious. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will often relieve and prevent occasional constipation.
can occur when you have to strain when having a bowel movement, have hard stools that are not easy to pass, or feel a soreness in your rectal area.
means that you have easy passage of well-formed stools, without straining. While regularity varies from person to person, having bowel movements at least 2-3 times a week or more often can generally be described as “regular.”
(one of two types of plant fiber) is a non-digestible carbohydrate that's known to have beneficial physiological effects in humans. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. Sources of soluble fiber are oats, legumes (beans, peas, and soybeans), apples, bananas, berries, barley, some vegetables, and psyllium.
induce bowel movements by increasing the contraction of muscles in the intestines, and are effective when used on a short-term basis. Stimulant laxatives usually produce a bowel movement within 6-12 hours, making them suitable for overnight relief. Common active ingredients found in stimulant laxatives include senna and bisacodyl.
Stools are the solid matter discharged in a bowel movement.
also called emollient laxatives, alleviate hardening of the feces by adding moisture to the stool. Stool softeners draw water back into the stool, making the stool soft and easy to pass. Stool softeners usually work within 12-72 hours. The active ingredient in most stool softeners is a medicine called docusate.
Stool softeners are commonly recommended for patients who should avoid straining due to occasional constipation while defecating, including:
- Patients recovering from abdominal, pelvic or rectal surgery, childbirth^, or a heart condition.
- Patients with painful hemorrhoids and/or anal fissures. Softening the stool in these patients can help reduce pain during defecation.
is when you contract your muscles forcefully to try and have a bowel movement, which can be harmful in some cases. Straining is considered a symptom of constipation.
is the forces from the outside world impinging on the individual. Stress sometimes is a normal part of life that can help us learn and grow. Conversely, stress can cause us significant problems if unexpected or prolonged.
^If pregnant or nursing, ask a healthcare professional before use