Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Constipation is a condition of the digestive system where a person (or other animal) experiences difficulty in eliminating feces. Most doctors do not consider a person constipated unless they are experiencing difficulty passing hard, dry stool, and there has been a decrease in the number of bowel movements from the amount that's normal for the person. A person can present with a decrease in bowel movements, along with signs of diarrhea and still be considered constipated. This is usually due to the stool being impacted in the colon which impedes normal absorption of water, causing the waste material that does come out to be watery.
Some of the main causes of constipation include:
- Constriction, where part of the intestine or rectum is narrowed or blocked, not allowing feces to move past
- Paralysis, where peristaltic action is diminished or absent, so that feces are not moved along
- Excessive drying of feces, due to dehydration, forming a hard bulk that cannot be eliminated
- Insufficient intake of food or dietary fiber, so that a suitable bolus is not formed
- Psychosomatic constipation, based on anxiety or unfamiliarity with surroundings. Two forms: functional constipation, and constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome, characterized by a combination of constipation and abdominal discomfort and/or pain.
These causes may have a multiplicity of causes themselves.
A common misconception holds that one should have a bowel movement every day. This is not really true. There is no "right" number of bowel movements. Each person's body finds its own normal number of bowel movements. It depends on the food one eats, how much one exercises, and other things.
At one time or another, almost everyone gets constipated. In most cases, it lasts for a short time and is not serious. When one understands what causes constipation, one can take steps to prevent it.
Constipation in art
Screamin' Jay Hawkins wrote and sang "Constipation Blues " while suffering a serious bout. He had the following to say about the condition.
- "I never before had been constipated in my life and it didn't dawn on me until I was five hours on the stool in the hospital that nothin' was gonna happen. I had doctors give me enemas and still nothin' happened. I had tears in my eyes, and I noticed this beautiful roll of toilet paper and I took out a pencil and, at the bottom of the toilet paper, I started writin' the song backwards, from the bottom up. The more I rolled out the toilet paper, the more I got into the song. I wrote exactly as I felt, each movement, each sound, each pain..."
The Bonzo Dog Band recorded "The Strain" on the same subject.
Changing what one eats and drinks and how much one exercises will help relieve and prevent constipation. Here are other steps one may take.
1. Eat more fiber
Fiber helps form soft, bulky stool. It is found in many vegetables, fruits, and grains. Be sure to add fiber a little at a time, so your body gets used to it slowly. Limit foods that have little or no fiber such as ice cream, cheese, meat, snacks like chips and pizza, and processed foods such as instant mashed potatoes or already-prepared frozen dinners. The chart below lists some high-fiber foods.
- Acorn squash, raw
- Broccoli, raw
- Brussels sprouts, raw
- Cabbage, raw
- Carrots, raw
- Cauliflower, raw
- Spinach, cooked
- Zucchini, raw
Breads, Cereals, and Beans
- Black-eyed peas, cooked
- Kidney beans, cooked
- Lima beans, cooked
- Whole-grain cereal, cold (All-Bran, Total, Bran Flakes)
- Whole-grain cereal, hot (oatmeal, Wheatena )
- Whole-wheat or 7-grain bread
2. Drink plenty of water and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups
Liquid helps keep the stool soft and easy to pass, so it's important to drink enough fluids. Try not to drink liquids that contain caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol tend to dry out your digestive system.
3. Get enough exercise
Regular exercise helps your digestive system stay active and healthy. You don't need to become a great athlete. A 20- to 30-minute walk every day may help.
4. Allow yourself enough time to have a bowel movement
Sometimes we feel so hurried that we don't pay attention to our body's needs. Make sure you don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
5. Use laxatives only if a doctor says you should
Laxatives are medicines that will make you pass a stool. Most people who are mildly constipated do not need laxatives. However, if you are doing all the right things and you are still constipated, your doctor may recommend laxatives for a limited time.
Your doctor will tell you if you need a laxative and what type is best for you. Laxatives come in many forms: liquid, chewing gum, pills, and powder that you mix with water, for example.
6. Check with your doctor about any medicines you take
Some medicines can cause constipation. They include calcium pills, opioids, some antacids, iron pills, diuretics (water pills), and certain antidepressants. If you take medicine for another problem, be sure to ask your doctor whether it could cause constipation.
Points to Remember
- Constipation affects almost everyone at one time or another.
- Many people think they're constipated when really they aren't.
- In most cases, following these simple tips will help prevent constipation:
- Eating a variety of foods, especially beans, bran, whole grains , and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Drinking plenty of liquids.
- Exercising regularly.
- Not ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement.
- Understanding that normal bowel habits are different for everyone.
- If one's bowel habits change, check with one's doctor.
- Most people with mild constipation do not need laxatives. However, doctors may recommend laxatives for a limited time for people with chronic constipation.
- Medicines that you take for another problem might cause constipation.
- American Gastroenterological Association
- International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Inc.
- Clinical Evidence: Constipation in adults
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