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Constipation occurs when a person has a bowel movement less than three times a week, according to the National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse (NNDIC). While constipation can be uncomfortable and embarrassing to talk about, the NDDIC makes it clear that the problem is by no means rare. The organization states that everyone will likely be constipated at least once during their lifetime and that constipation results in an average of 2.5 doctor’s office visits a year. However, constipation relief is actually quite simple to understand and may not even require a doctor’s visit.
Symptoms of constipation
Constipation is marked by hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass. When an individual has a difficult bowel movement that involves straining and/or pain, according to WebMD, it is considered constipation. The NDDIC asserts that constipation is itself a symptom of a larger problem.
Causes of constipation
The NDDIC notes that constipation is nearly always caused by a poor diet.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you may be constipated because you are not consuming enough fiber, are dehydrated, have Irritable Bowel Syndrome or are not getting enough exercise. Other causes of constipation can be related to your lifestyle or medical condition. Pregnant women are more likely to become constipated, as are older people. And, it is not uncommon to experience constipation as a side effect of medication, travel or other unexpected situations. Sometimes constipation is caused by a physiological problem, such as what occurs when your colon, rectum or thyroid are adversely affected.
Treatments for constipation
The Mayo Clinic argues that you don’t necessarily have to go to the doctor when you are experiencing symptoms of constipation. You can often relieve constipation on your own. Many cases of constipation can be treated with over-the-counter medications, such as the many types of laxatives.
However, according to the NDDIC, most people who are suffering from constipation don’t need laxatives; instead they should change their diets and lifestyles. For instance, drinking enough water and getting enough fiber, as well as increasing your activity level, can help you relieve the symptoms of constipation.
When to see the doctor
There are some cases in which constipation is serious and you should see a doctor. According to Mayo Clinic, it’s important to see a health provider if you have frequent constipation, such as recurring constipation or symptoms that last for more than three weeks. If you have blood in your stools, abdominal or rectal pain or continued symptoms regardless of diet and exercise changes, make a doctor's appointment right away. In addition, you can consult a doctor or other health care worker if you need advice regarding how to change your diet or lifestyle in order to relieve ongoing symptoms of constipation.