Constipation (obstipation) is perceived very differently from one person to the next, so it is difficult to say whether someone is constipated or not. Some people have one bowel movement per day, while others only void their bowels every second or third day. Constipation is described as having fewer than three bowel movements per week, and when the stool is too hard. Constipation can occur for different reasons. Simple measures such as more exercise, increased fluid intake and more fibre in your food can often already be helpful.
Habits such as low-fibre diets, a lack of exercise and insufficient fluid intake usually cause constipation. However, certain medications such as opiates (strong painkillers) or diuretics can also cause it. In addition, constipation may be a symptom of different diseases such as irritable bowel, hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus or multiple sclerosis. Women as a whole are affected by constipation more frequently than men, particularly after menopause.
The symptoms of constipation include difficulty passing stools, hard stools, feeling like you have to strain hard or are not able to void your bowels completely. A feeling of fullness, abdominal pain or flatulence can be concomitant symptoms of constipation. If the symptoms last for more than 3 months, this is known as chronic constipation. Chronic constipation can facilitate the development of haemorrhoids. Every case of chronic constipation as well as acute constipation with severe pain, a swollen stomach, fever or blood in the stool should be clarified by a doctor.
Constipation can often already be diagnosed on the basis of the symptoms and the patient’s medical history. If there are symptoms such as pain, fever or blood in the stool, further examinations such as a colonoscopy or blood tests may be necessary.
Constipation can often already be remedied by adjusting your eating habits: fibre-rich food (wholegrain products, vegetables, fruit), more exercise and sufficient fluid intake are among the most important measures.
Sometimes laxatives are required to stimulate the bowel to void itself. However, they should be used sparingly and only taken as prescribed by your doctor. Chronic use of laxatives can make constipation worse. If constipation occurs within the scope of another illness such as hypothyroidism or irritable bowel, the focus is on treating the underlying illness.