Lonestar Gastroenterology

5 Common Causes of Constipation

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5 Common Causes of Constipation

Constipation is a problem that millions of people deal with, either every once in a while or chronically, for a number of reasons. The cause of this condition can be a mild issue or a more problematic underlying illness.

Constipation is a common problem that causes you to have fewer bowel movements or suffer difficulty in passing stool. Around 16 in every 100 adults deal with some issues with constipation, and as you age, the number goes up to 33 out of every 100 people. It is especially common among women (especially during pregnancy or post-pregnancy), older adults, people with bad dietary habits, or those who take specific supplements and deal with certain health problems. 

Constipation is not a disease and is often a temporary issue, but in many cases it’s also indicative of an underlying condition. Let’s explore what might be causing your constipation by looking at the symptoms, risk factors and possible causes, and ways to treat it.

Dr. Rajesh Mehta and his compassionate team at LoneStar Gastroenterology in Austin, Texas, can help with relief from constipation or other digestive issues. 

Constipation and its symptoms

This condition happens when you absorb too much water from waste in your colon, resulting in dry stool that is difficult to move through the digestive tract. How often you defecate depends on what you eat and other factors, so the exact number of times you should be going varies. Some go several times a day, yet others go a few times a week. As long as things are moving regularly and without difficulty, you’re fine. But you’re likely constipated if you’re having less than three bowel movements weekly.

Aside from less frequency of releasing stool, other symptoms of constipation include stomach ache, muscle cramps, bloating, nauseousness, painful passing of stool, and feeling like you have emptied your bowels after a movement.

Causes and risk factors

A variety of conditions and other factors can lead to constipation, such as:

1. Blockages

Obstructions in your colon or rectum can make passing stool difficult, including bowel stricture (narrowing of the colon), anal fissures (small tears on the skin around the anus), or colon, rectal, or abdominal cancer. 

2. Neurological problems

Nerve damage, such as autonomic neuropathy, can affect function in the colon and rectum, and with other nerve-related conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury.

3. Muscle dysfunction

The muscles used to move stool through your colon (a form of smooth muscle) and the pelvic muscles can be stressed or damaged, causing them to be unable to relax (a condition called anismus), incorrectly coordinate or contract (dyssynergia) or weaken (often in the pelvic floor).

4. Hormone imbalance

Some conditions can affect digestion by changing your hormonal balance, such as diabetes, hyperparathyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), and hormonal changes during pregnancy. 

5. Dietary and lifestyle habits

Eating low fiber foods can make passing stool harder, as well as not drinking enough water, getting inadequate amounts of exercise, stress, and eating too much milk and cheese. Changes in your eating routine can cause digestive problems, as well as traveling or going to bed at odd times. These habits can change when and how your body digests and processes food.

Prevention and treatment

There are many ways to manage constipation. Diet and lifestyle changes can reduce issues with constipation, such as drinking more water (two to four glasses a day), eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, getting more exercise, and reducing the amount of high fat foods. Stool softeners or laxatives can help, along with other prescription medications.

Surgery is a rare option to treat structural problems (obstructions, intestinal stricture, anal fissures) and cancer of the digestive tract. 

Constipation affects millions, but there are several ways to treat it, and we can help. Make an appointment with Dr. Mehta and LoneStar Gastroenterology today to get relief from constipation or other digestive conditions.