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Patient care — conditions, diseases

Constipation: Constipation refers to infrequent or hard stools, or difficulty passing stools. More specifically, constipation may involve pain or crying during the passage of a bowel movement, the inability to pass a bowel movement after straining or pushing for more than 10 minutes, or no bowel movements after more than 3 days.

Constipation is a relative term. There is wide variability in what is considered normal patterns of bowel elimination. While some healthy people may have consistently soft or near runny stools, others may have consistently hard firm stools, but no difficulty in passing them.

When the stool is hard, infrequent, and requires significant effort to pass, the person has constipation. Constipation may cause discomfort with passage of stools, and passage of large, wide stools may tear the mucosal membrane of the anus, especially in children, causing bleeding and the possibility of an anal fissure.

Causes of constipation: Constipation can be caused by changes in diet, decrease in physical activity, lack of toilet facilities, behavior and psychological problems, dehydration, diseases of the bowel, neurological diseases, congenital diseases, medications, and many other causes.

Preventing constipation: There are many things you can do to prevent constipation. Dietary measures such as increasing fiber intake from whole-wheat grains, fresh fruits, vegetables and bran may help add bulk to the stool and promote normal bowel movements. Special efforts should be made to increase daily intake of fluids.

  • Eating more fruits, vegetables and grains, which are high in fiber
  • Drinking plenty of water and other liquids
  • Getting enough exercise
  • Taking time to have a bowel movement when you need to
  • Using laxatives only if your doctor says you should
  • Asking your doctor if medicines you take may cause constipation

It's not important that you have a bowel movement every day. If your bowel habits change, however, check with your doctor.

illustration

The digestive system organs in the abdominal cavity include the liver, gallbladder, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.

Call your health care provider if:

  • There is constipation in an infant younger than 2 months.
  • There is sudden constipation with abdominal cramps, and an inability to pass gas or stool. (In this case, do not take any laxatives. Call your health care provider immediately!)
  • There are very thin, pencil-like stools.
  • There is also abdominal pain and bloating.
  • There is also unexplained weight loss.
  • There is blood in the stool.
  • Homecare is not working.

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