Constipation Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

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Bowel movements are not typically a big part of conversations among adults, but the vast majority of us have experienced constipation, or a lack of regular bowel movements. The definition of constipation is unique for everyone, what is normal for you probably is not normal for anyone else in your household.

You could ask around and compare if you are really curious, but our daily "output" varies with our activities, what we've eaten or not eaten, and our emotional state to some degree.

Constipation is different from individual to individual. One person may typically have a bowel movement once every three days, while another person may have three bowel movements each day. This variation is typical, and only your own bowel habits can determine what constipation means to you.

Stress and Constipation

Stress can throw a normal routine of bowel movements off and cause pain and discomfort in the process. Stress can include emotional stress, such as nursing school exam week, or problems at home or work. Stress can also be physical, such as the stress that your body undergoes when sick or tired and overworked or having surgery.

Food and Constipation

Certain foods are known to cause or increase constipation, such as cheese and foods low in fiber (meat in particular), and diet changes alone may improve things. High fiber foods, such as fruit and vegetables, are known to improve constipation. Drinking more water and less caffeine is also useful.

Surgery and Constipation

Surgery is both physically stressful and emotionally stressful for most people, as it is hard to find a patient who doesn't worry before having surgery. In addition to the stresses of surgery, there are quite a few reasons why constipation attacks unsuspecting surgery patients quite frequently.

Many surgeries require a bowel prep, which empties the digestive tract of food. For these patients, it may be several days after surgery before a bowel movement happens, as there is no stool that needs to be removed and most patients don't eat a full diet in the day after surgery. This is considered completely normal.

Pain Medications and Constipation

Pain medications, particularly opioids, can cause severe constipation during the recovery phase. If you are taking these medications, consider taking a daily dose of a gentle stool softener and increasing your intake of fluids that do not contain caffeine in order to prevent this issue.

Is it Constipation?

Sometimes, we don't even know we are constipated because it has never happened before and consider reporting to the ER for an evaluation for appendicitis or some other type of abdominal pain. Constipation can hurt and it isn't the first thing people think of when they have abdominal discomfort. It can be a serious pain in the butt if you will pardon the expression.

If you aren't sure that what you are experiencing is constipation, it is important to seek treatment for your abdominal pain. A simple X-ray can often diagnose constipation, and it is very important not to assume a serious surgical complication that causes abdominal pain is constipation.

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