Constipation

Constipation is a common complaint among older adults. 26% of women and 16% of men above 65 years of age suffer from constipation.

Constipation occurs when stool becomes hard and dry causing difficulty or pain during bowel movement. This can result in fewer toilet visits. Sometimes constipation is accompanied by abdominal pain.

SymptomsCausesDiagnosisTreatment
  • Infrequent bowel movement
  • Straining during bowel movement
  • Hard and small stool
  • Sense of incomplete bowel movement
  • Abdominal pain and swollen abdomen
  • Pain
  • Vomiting

There are various reasons that can lead to constipation. Some of which are listed below:

  • Consuming an adequate amount of fluid and fiber content is necessary to pass stools easily. Drinking less water makes constipation worse.
  • Food high in fiber includes vegetables, fruits and cereals. The British Nutrition Foundation recommends 18 Gms of fiber content per day. Fiber is part of food that is not digested. It remains in the gut and adds bulk to the faeces.
  • Certain medicationscause constipation as a side-effect. These include painkillers (such as morphine and codeines), antacids, anti-depressants and iron tablets.
  • Medical conditionssuch as under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism and irritable bowel syndrome can lead to poor mobility in elderly people which can also contribute to constipation.
  • Consuming large amount of dairy products can also lead to constipation.
  • Stress or depression is also a possible cause of constipation.

Extensive diagnosis is not needed for constipation. Only a small number of people might have serious problems because of constipation. If it persists for more than two weeks, consult the doctor to determine the source of constipation.

Some tests that can diagnose constipation are:

  • Blood test if a hormonal imbalance is suspected
  • Barium Studies to look for colon obstruction
  • Colonoscopy to look for colon obstruction

Many patients with constipation do not have any obvious illness to explain their symptoms. These patients may suffer from one of the two problems:

  • Colonic inertia: A condition in which the colon contracts poorly and retains stool
  • Obstructed defecation: A condition in which one excessively strains to expel stool from the rectum
  • If consumption of a certain medicine or drug is the cause for constipation, stopping or reducing the dosage may provide relief from constipation.
  • Patients should be encouraged to attempt defecation first thing in the morning when the bowel is more active and 30 minutes after meals to take advantage of the gastrocolic reflex.
  • Inadequate fiber intake is a major cause for constipation. Patients should be encouraged to increase their intake of fiber-rich food such as cereals, bran, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Also increase fluid intake.
  • Prolonged bed rest and immobility is associated with constipation. Being physically active relieves constipation.
  • Mild stool softeners or laxatives can be used.
  • An elderly patient having a bout of constipation should be admitted to a hospital and given a non-stimulant laxative (such as sorbitol water, fleets enemas or polyethylene glycol) to clear the bowels.
Current Category: Constipation
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