Constipation: What Causes it?

Constipation is a fairly common situation that can be uncomfortable for the people who experience it. There are various causes and solutions. In this article, we'll tell you all you need to know about this condition.
Constipation: What Causes it?

Last update: 30 January, 2021

Constipation has a medical definition. However, it’s also clear that each person has their own! Each one of us knows our normal defecation rhythm and a change to this is strange for anyone.

In strict and scientific terms, we consider the issue to be constipation when the frequency of defecation decreases. In other words, this is when the person’s intestinal habit is less than what specialists consider normal for the general population.

By this logic, we can label someone as constipated when they defecate less than three times a week.

However, there are people that live their whole lives defecating less than three times a week and don’t suffer from any gastrointestinal variations. Nevertheless, many people see their quality of life change when their intestinal habits and rhythm reduce.

More than 15% of adults suffer from constipation, according to some calculations. This is a significant amount, which increases with age. For those over seventy years old, it’s assumed that a third of the population is suffering.

Constipation, according to how long you have been suffering, can present in two ways:

  • Acute: when the rhythm of dedication reduces because of a specific cause which usually has a solution. It may be a change in diet or a state of stress that can cause it. After some time, the cause solves itself and the person returns to their normal rhythm.
  • Chronic: when the individual is constipated for large periods of time – sometimes their whole life. This can be an inherited condition that requires the person to take medication to improve their quality of life.

Symptoms of constipation

Although it’s clear that a sign of constipation is the lack of frequent dedication, constipated individuals may also experience the following in addition to irregular bowel movements:

  • Defecating requires a lot of effort: Those suffering from constipation find it difficult to evacuate their bowels and use excessive muscle force in order to do so, causing considerable exhaustion.
  • The route feels obstructed: The constipated person has the sensation that there’s an obstruction in the intestine that won’t allow for their feces to be expelled.
  • Hard feces: With less frequent defecation, the fecal material accumulates for long periods in the intestine, becoming harder through dehydration. This causes the act of dedication to be more difficult and increases discomfort.
  • Incomplete emptying of the bowels: After defecating, the constipated person may feel like they haven’t managed to evacuate the bowels completely. In general, this is a real feeling, and although they have already defecated, it’s possible that they haven’t completely expelled the accumulation of fecal material in their intestines.
woman sat on the toilet holding her stomach; what causes constipation?
Constipation can cause individuals to use excessive muscular effort in order to expel the feces.

The causes of constipation

There are several causes of constipation. Below, we’ll explain a few of the most common causes.

  • Diet: This is typically the main cause of acute and chronic constipation. A diet that isn’t rich in fiber will slow the intestinal transit causing constipation. Eating little to no fruit or vegetables is a reason for this.
  • Use of medication: Some pharmaceuticals may cause constipation as a side effect. It’s common for a series of antidepressants to cause it, for example. Generally, the doctor that administers the patient with any medication should suggest the patient modify their diet and counteract this side effect.
  • Hypomotility: There are people that have lazy intestines with less movement than they should have. It’s a condition that they’re born with and logically, makes the digestive process a lot slower, delaying defecation.
  • General and systematic illnesses: Professionals associate illnesses like diabetes or hyperthyroidism with constipation. There’s not one specific cause, and the cases of constipation are usually acute. However, if the illnesses worsen, it’s likely this symptom will develop.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant people often suffer from constipation. This is because the increased size of the uterus puts pressure on the intestines and makes the feces’ journey difficult.
  • Intestinal tumors: The most serious cause of constipation is an oncological process in the intestinal tube. Colon cancer is one of the most prevalent and it may begin displaying its symptoms with simple constipation.
  • Neurological illnesses: Illnesses that affect the nervous system can also cause constipation, like Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.
woman with stylized fruit and vegetables; what to eat to avoid constipation

Complications for constipated individuals

Beyond feeling discomfort, the constipated person may, over time, develop other undesired side effects. The most frequent complications from constipation are as follows:

  • Hemorrhoids: After exerting excessive force in order to defecate, the veins in the rectum and anus increase their pressure. These then dilate, which leads to hemorrhoids. These can be painful and even bleed.
  • Anal fissure: When expelling hard feces, they may cause wounds to the anal passage. Among those, we include rupturing of the anus or skin around the area.
  • Rectal prolapse: This is also caused by overexertion, here part of the rectal intestine can exit the body and hang outside the body. This is what medical professionals call a prolapse and it’s prone to infections, as the mucose is then exposed to a different environment.

If you think you may suffer from constipation, make sure to see your doctor. They can help you find healthy solutions.

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