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Constipation can be an unpleasant topic to talk about. Most people have experienced constipation at some point in their life. Though typically not serious, constipation can be both painful and frustrating.
Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent than normal. The frequency or time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements several times a day while others only one to two times a week. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement is too long. After three days, the stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass.
Constipation is most commonly caused by inadequate fiber in the diet or a disruption of the regular diet or routine. Chronic constipation may be due to a poor diet, dehydration, certain medications (such as antidepressants, strong pain medications), stress, or the pressure of other activities that force you to ignore the urge to empty the bowel.
Various medical conditions can also cause or aggravate constipation. Some of the more common medical conditions that cause constipation include endocrine problems, such as decreased function of the thyroid gland or diabetes. Colorectal cancer is another medical condition that can cause constipation but it usually also accompanied by other symptoms including blood in the stool and weight loss. Common causes of constipation include the following:
Most people do not need extensive testing to evaluate constipation. Only a small number of patients with constipation have a serious underlying medical problem (such as poor function of the thyroid gland, diabetes, or colorectal cancer).
If you have constipation that has persisted for more than two weeks, you should see a doctor to determine if you need further evaluation. For a patient who has colorectal cancer, early detection and treatment may be life-saving.
Standard evaluation for constipation includes performing blood tests and examining the colon by colonoscopy, particularly for patients older than 50 years. Other tests include colonic transit studies (time it takes for stools to move through the colon) and anal manometry (measures pressure and muscle function in the rectum and anus).
Most patients with serious constipation, and without any obvious illness to explain their symptoms, suffer from one of two problems:
Call your health care provider if:
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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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