People who are constipated may find it difficult and painful to
have a bowel movement. Other symptoms of constipation include
feeling bloated, uncomfortable and sluggish, headaches, discomfort
and distension, flatulence and pain, bad breath and may lead to
absorption of toxins from the colon in severe cases.
The clinical definition of constipation is any two
of the following symptoms for at least 12 weeks (not necessarily
consecutive) in the previous 12 months:
· straining during bowel movements
· lumpy or hard stool
· sensation of incomplete evacuation
· sensation of anorectal blockage/obstruction
· fewer than three bowel movements per week
Some people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome),
also known as spastic colon, have spasms in the colon that affect
bowel movements. Constipation and diarrhea often alternate, and
abdominal cramping, gassiness, and bloating are other common complaints.
Although IBS can produce lifelong symptoms, it is not a life-threatening
condition. It often worsens with stress, but there is no specific
cause or anything unusual that the doctor can see in the colon.
Sometimes constipation can lead to complications.
These complications include hemorrhoids caused by straining to
have a bowel movement or anal fissures (tears in the skin around
the anus) caused when hard stool stretches the sphincter muscle.
As a result, rectal bleeding may occur, appearing as bright red
streaks on the surface of the stool. Fissures may be quite painful
and can aggravate the constipation that originally caused them.
Treatment for hemorrhoids may include warm tub baths, ices packs,
and application of a special cream to the affected area. Treatment
for anal fissure may include stretching the sphincter muscle or
surgical removal of tissue or skin in the affected area.
Sometimes straining causes a small amount of intestinal
lining to push out from the anal opening. This condition, known
as rectal prolapse, may lead to secretion of mucus from the anus.
Usually eliminating the cause of the prolapse, such as straining
or coughing, is the only treatment necessary. Severe or chronic
prolapse requires surgery to strengthen and tighten the anal sphincter
muscle or to repair the prolapsed lining.
Constipation may also cause hard stool to pack the
intestine and rectum so tightly that the normal pushing action
of the colon is not enough to expel the stool. This condition,
called fecal impaction, occurs most often in children and older
adults. An impaction can be softened with mineral oil taken by
mouth and by an enema. After softening the impaction, the doctor
may break up and remove part of the hardened stool by inserting
one or two fingers into the anus.