What Is Constipation?
Constipation is a common digestive issue in which bowel movements are infrequent or difficult to pass.
It's considered a symptom of various health issues, rather than a disease in and of itself.
"Normal" bowel habits differ between people. Some people may pass stool three times a day, while others may only have a bowel movement three times a week.
You're considered constipated if you have fewer than three bowel movements in a week. After this point, your stool may harden and become difficult or even painful to pass.
While constipated, you may strain to pass stool or feel that you are unable to completely empty your bowels.
Prevalence and Risk Factors
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal (GI) issues in the United States, affecting about 42 million people, or nearly 15 percent of the population, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
In 2004, constipation resulted in 6.3 million outpatient visits and 5.3 million prescriptions, the NIDDK notes.
Although constipation can affect anyone, you're at highest risk for it if you are:
- Age 65 or older
- Of non-European ancestry
You're also at higher risk for constipation if you're pregnant, or if you just gave birth or had surgery.
Causes of Constipation
The GI tract, which consists of a series of hollow organs stretching from your mouth to your anus, is responsible for digestion, nutrient absorption, and waste removal.
In your lower GI tract, your large intestine, or bowel — which includes your colon and rectum — absorbs water from your digested food, changing it from a liquid to a solid (stool).
Constipation occurs when digested food spends too much time in your colon.
Your colon absorbs too much water, making your stool hard and dry — and difficult for your rectal muscles to push out of your body.
A wide range of factors can lead to constipation, including:
Constipation is most often acute, meaning that it appears suddenly and lasts for a short time.
But it can also be chronic, or long-lasting — and this type of constipation can have complications.
Video: Constipation and the Colon - Mayo Clinic
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Many health professionals continue to have a similar response, and dismiss the disease as all in the mind
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