What causes constipation

Constipation means infrequent or difficult bowel movements. Most people experience occasional problems with normal bowel movements. But if constipation lasts for weeks and months on end, it is termed as chronic.

Symptoms of constipation have 1-2 bowel movements in a week, needing to strain to pass stools, difficulty in passing stools, hard stools and a feeling of incomplete evacuation.

There are several possible causes of constipation.

Colonic or Rectal Blockages: Colonic or rectal blockages can adversely affect normal bowel movement. These blockages can be due to many different reasons, such as –

  • Colon cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Abdominal cancer
  • Bowel stricture or colon becoming narrow
  • Rectocele or a bulge or swelling in the rectum through the back part of the vagina
  • Anal fissures

Hormonal Diseases: Diseases that affect hormones in the body can be a cause of constipation. Hormones maintain the fluid equilibrium in the body. Diseases that affect hormones can upset this balance and cause mild to severe constipation. These diseases can be –

  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid gland
  • Hyperparathyroidism or an overactive parathyroid gland

A note on hormonal problems and constipation during pregnancy: During pregnancy, a woman can have constipation for many reasons including hormonal changes. The condition often resolves itself after childbirth. Treatment for chronic constipation during pregnancy may depend on the woman’s health.

Neurological Problems: Many conditions affecting the nerves around the bowels and nearby muscle groups can be a cause of constipation. These can be –

  • Stroke
  • Spinal injuries
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Autonomic neuropathy

Pelvic Muscle Problems: Pelvic muscles support organs involved in stool elimination. Any problem in the pelvic floor muscles can cause constipation. These can be –

  • Weak pelvic muscles.
  • Anismus or difficulty in relaxing of pelvic muscles.
  • Dyssynergia or problem with pelvic muscle movements.

Lifestyle Factors: An unhealthy diet and lifestyle can contribute to poor bowel health and cause constipation. These can be –

  • A diet is lacking in fiber.
  • A diet high in fatty and spicy foods.
  • No or low levels of physical activity.

Determining the cause of constipation is important for its effective treatment.

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