Constipation is a condition of the digestive system where an individual has hard faeces that are difficult to expel. In most cases, this occurs because the colon has absorbed too much water from the food that is in the colon.
The slower the food moves through the digestive tract, the more water the colon will absorb from it. Consequently, the feces become dry and hard.
When this happens, defecation (emptying the bowels) can become very painful.
Common causes of constipation:
1) Lack of fiber in diet
People whose diets include a good quantity of fiber are significantly less likely to suffer from constipation.
It is important to consume foods rich in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber promotes bowel movements and prevents constipation.
Foods that are low in fiber include high-fat foods, such as cheese, meat, and eggs.
2) Physical inactivity
Constipation can occur if someone becomes too physically inactive; this is especially the case in older adults.
For individuals who have been bedridden for a long time, perhaps for several days or weeks, their risk of having constipation is significantly increased. It is believed that physical activity keeps our metabolism high, making the processes in our body happen more rapidly.
Older adults tend to have a more sedentary life compared with younger people and are therefore at higher risk of constipation. Physically active people are much less likely to become constipated than inactive people.
3) Some drugs
The most common medications to cause constipation are:
- Narcotic pain drugs
- Anticonvulsants iron supplements
- Calcium channel blocking drugs
- Aluminum-containing antacids
Some people become constipated when they consume milk and dairy products.
5) Irritable bowel syndrome
People who suffer from Irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) get constipation much more frequently, compared with the rest of the population.
Pregnancy brings about hormonal changes that can make a woman more susceptible to constipation. Also, the uterus may compress the intestine, slowing down the passage of food.
As we get older, our metabolism slows down, resulting in less intestinal activity. The muscles in the digestive tract do not work as well as they used to.
8) Changes in routine
When we travel, our normal routine changes; this can have an effect on our digestive system, which sometimes results in constipation. Meals are eaten at different times, we might go to bed, get up, and go to the toilet at different times. All these changes can raise the risk of constipation.
9) Overuse of laxatives
Some people believe we should go to the toilet at least once a day – this is not true. However, to make sure this happens, some people self-medicate with laxatives.
Laxatives are effective; they do help bowel movements. However, using them regularly allows the body to get used to their action and gradually the dose needs to increase to get the same effect. Laxatives can be habit forming.
10) Not going to the toilet when needed
If individuals ignore the urge to have a bowel movement, the urge can gradually go away until the individual no longer feels the need to go. The longer it is delayed, the drier and harder the stool will become.
11) Not drinking enough water (dehydration)
If constipation is already present, drinking more liquids might not relieve it. However, regularly drinking plenty of water reduces the risk of constipation.
Many sodas and drinks contain caffeine which can cause dehydration and worsen constipation. Alcohol also dehydrates the body and should be avoided by individuals who are constipated or very susceptible to constipation.
12) Problems with the colon or rectum
Tumors can compress or restrict the passages and cause constipation. Also, scar tissue (adhesions), diverticulosis, and abnormal narrowing of the colon or rectum (colorectal stricture).
13) Some diseases and conditions
Diseases that tend to slow down the movement of faeces through the colon, rectum, or anus can cause constipation; these include the following:
- Neurological disorders – MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injuries, chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction.
- Endocrine and metabolic conditions – uremia, Diabetes, hypercalcemia, poor glycemic control, hypoglcemia
- Systemic diseases – these are diseases that affect a number of organs and tissues, or affect the body as a whole, they include Lupus, scleroderma, amyloidosis.
- Cancer – mainly due to pain medications and chemotherapy. Also, if a tumor blocks or squeezes the digestive system.