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Constipation: Introduction

Constipation is an abnormal condition in which there is an infrequent and difficult passage of hard and dry feces or stools. Constipation can happen by itself or can be a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. Constipation can result from malignancy, inflammation, trauma, dehydration, obstruction and other abnormal processes.

Constipation is common in young children and the elderly but can occur in any age group or population. Constipation can be due to a mild condition, such as hemorrhoids. Constipation can also happen in a moderate condition, disorder or disease, such as hypothyroidism. Constipation can also be due to serious, even life-threatening conditions, including colon cancer or intestinal obstruction.

Depending on the cause, constipation can be short-term and disappear quickly, such as when constipation occurs after a single episode of delaying having a bowel movement when there is an urge. Constipation can also be recurring over a longer period of time, such as when constipation is due to consuming a diet that is lacking in fiber and fluids.

Constipation can be the result of a wide variety of gastrointestinal or digestive conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, anal fistula and ileus.

Constipation can also result from conditions that occur in other body systems, such as pregnancy and certain types of spinal cord injury. For more details about causes, see causes of constipation.

Constipation can occur in conjunction with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other common symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, dehydration, rectal pain, blood in stool and fever.

Complications of constipation include fecal impaction, rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, hemorrhoids and anal fissure. The underlying disorder, disease or condition that is causing constipation can cause complications, some of which can be serious, even life-threatening. For example, intestinal obstruction can cause peritonitis, shock and death if not treated rapidly.

Diagnosing constipation and its root cause begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. The abdomen is examined for abdominal pain and abdominal distension. Using a stethoscope, a licensed health care provider will also listen to the sounds that the bowels make. Certain abnormal sounds, or a lack of bowel sounds, can point to certain illnesses.

A digital rectal examination and testing for fecal occult blood are also generally performed at this time. A digital rectal examination involves inserting a finger into the rectum to feel for any abnormalities, such as hemorrhoids, and obtain a sample of stool.

The stool sample is then tested for fecal occult blood, which can indicate invisible, hidden blood in the stool and point to certain causes of constipation, such as colon cancer. Your health care provider may also examine the rectum using a lighted instrument called an anoscope. An anoscpoe is inserted a short way into the rectum to look for internal hemorrhoids and other causes of constipation.

Making a diagnosis may also include performing a variety of tests to help to diagnose other potential underlying diseases, conditions or disorders. Depending on the suspected cause, this may include performing special imaging tests to see a picture of the insides of the gastrointestinal tract. These may consist of some combination of tests, such as a barium X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and a variety of tests using video imaging technology. These include endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.

Sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy involve passing a small flexible tube fitted with a camera through the anus into the colon to look for abnormal areas. During this procedure, samples of tissue, called a biopsy, may be taken to be tested to confirm a diagnosis. The upper areas of the gastrointestinal tract can be examined in a similar way through the mouth and esophagus in an endoscopy procedure.

Blood tests can include a complete blood count (CBC). A complete blood count can help determine if an infectious process is present. If there is blood in the stool, a CBC can determine if there has been significant blood loss and a decreased number of red blood cells (anemia).

A diagnosis of constipation and its cause can easily be delayed or missed because constipation may be mild or intermittent and for other reasons. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of constipation.

Treatment of constipation involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition that is causing it. Some conditions can be easily and successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment and may not have an optimal prognosis. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of constipation....more »

Constipation: Constipation is a common symptom where a person has difficulty passing feces or unusually dry stool. Note that dry stool is medically considered within the spectrum of "constipation", although many people will use the term...more »

Constipation: Misdiagnosis

Diagnosing constipation and its cause may be delayed or missed because in some cases, constipation may not be severe enough or last long enough for a person to seek medical care. Older people may assume that constipation is a normal part of the aging process and not promptly seek medical care. In addition, normal patterns of having bowel movements differ between people, ...more misdiagnosis »

Causes of Constipation:

The following medical conditions are some of the possible causes of Constipation. There are likely to be other possible causes, so ask your doctor about your symptoms.

» Review Causes of Constipation: Causes | Symptom Checker » | Assessment Questionnaire »

Home Diagnostic Testing and Constipation

Home medical tests possibly related to Constipation:

Causes of Types of Constipation:

Review the causes of these more specific types of Constipation:

Review causes of types of Constipation in more specific categories:

Review causes of more specific types of Constipation:

Constipation: Symptom Checker

Our database lists various combinations of symptoms associated with Constipation. Visit the Constipation: Symptom Checker, to add and remove symptoms and research your condition.

Constipation Treatments

Treatment plans for constipation are individualized depending on the underlying cause, the presence of coexisting diseases, the age and medical history of the patient, and other factors. Treatment generally involves a multifaceted plan that addresses the cause, minimizes the discomfort of constipation and softens the stool so it can be passed normally.

Many ...Constipation Treatments

Some of the possible treatments listed in sources for treatment of Constipation may include:

Review further information on Constipation Treatments.

Alternative Treatments for Constipation

Alternative treatments or home remedies that have been listed as possibly helpful for Constipation may include:

Constipation: Animations

Stories from Users for Constipation

Real-life user stories relating to Constipation:


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