Stool Softeners and Constipation Relief
What is constipation?Constipation occurs when bowel movements become infrequent or difficult to pass. The frequency of bowel movements varies from one person to another, with some individuals passing stools two or three times a day, while others go only once every few days. However, going longer than three days between bowel movements is too long.
Virtually everyone becomes constipated every now and then; older adults, particularly women, are more likely to be affected. You are constipated if you have at least two of the following symptoms more than 25 % of the time for three months or longer:
- Hard, dry stools (feces);
- Straining or difficulty passing a stool;
- Incomplete evacuation of stools;
- Having a bowel movement fewer than two times per week.
While constipation can cause quite a bit of discomfort, it is not usually a cause for concern and can be treated easily at home.
What causes constipation?A wide range of factors can affect bowel function. The most common issues that lead to constipation are listed here:
- Inadequate dietary fiber;
- Insufficient intake of water;
- Consuming dairy products in large amounts;
- Disruptions in diet;
- Disruptions in routine, such as traveling;
- Lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyle;
- Ignoring the urge to pass a stool;
- Overuse of antacids, especially those containing calcium;
- Medications, iron supplements;
- Neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease;
- Depression and anxiety disorders;
- Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia;
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS);
- Colon cancer.
To learn what causes constipation in your case, your doctor will ask you a number of questions about your medical history and lifestyle. Extensive testing is not usually required; a simple blood test may be used to determine if a hormone imbalance is responsible, while barium testing or colonoscopy may be performed to find out if a colon obstruction is what causes constipation in certain patients.
What are the symptoms of constipation?The symptoms of constipation are fairly straightforward and include:
- Abdominal pain;
- Swelling of the abdomen;
- Infrequent or difficult bowel movements;
What is the best form of constipation relief?If you are experiencing the symptoms of constipation, there is an easy solution for constipation relief. Stool softeners are safe and effective for most people, and they can be purchased at most pharmacies over the counter. Stool softeners work by causing the stool to absorb fats and water, loosening and allowing it to pass through the anal canal more easily.
Stool softeners are effective for occasional constipation. They should not be used for more than two weeks at a time, as overuse may actually worsen the problem. If you do not obtain constipation relief within this time period, you should consult your physician.
When should I be concerned about constipation?If you are having problems with constipation for the first time, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor. If you have blood in your stools, you experience severe pain during bowel movements, or you are losing weight without trying to, it is important to seek medical attention.
Certain common bowel disorders can cause symptoms such as blood in the stool; while this may be alarming, it is usually not dangerous. In some cases, however, it may be an indication of a more dangerous condition which requires immediate treatment.