Our Gastroenterology Blog
Posts for tag: Constipation
Everyone’s different when it comes to how often they have a bowel movement. Some people go three times a day while others only go three times a week, and both are normal; however, if you are having less than three bowel movements a week then you are considered constipated. If stools are dry or hard to pass, these are also signs of constipation.
While laxatives are often the first thing people try when it comes to treating their constipation you may want to hold off on those for the time being and try these simple hacks:
- Make sure that you are staying hydrated (drinking enough water is key!)
- Get regular exercise
- Increase your fiber intake
If you’ve tried the lifestyle and dietary changes above and your bowels still aren’t moving, then you may be considering a laxative at this point. There are different types; however, it’s important to know which ones to use. Fiber supplements are often the easiest on the body (this includes products like Metamucil). Before purchasing laxatives, it’s a good idea to talk with your GI doctor about which one is right for you. Since people can become dependent on laxatives, you must speak with your gastroenterologist if you find yourself regularly dealing with constipation that can only be alleviated by using laxatives.
While there are many over-the-counter laxatives on the market that can help with occasional constipation, it’s also important to know when to see your gastroenterologist instead. You should consult with your doctor if,
- You haven’t had a bowel movement in more than three days
- You are using laxatives for a week but are still dealing with constipation
- Your constipation is accompanied by bloody stools, abdominal pain, or dizziness
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding
- You are unexpectedly and suddenly losing weight
Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. Chronic constipation occurs when symptoms continue for more than a few weeks. Some of the causes of chronic constipation include,
- Poor diet or a low-fiber diet
- Sedentary lifestyle (aka lack of physical activity)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Bowel obstructions
- High levels of calcium in the bloodstream (hypercalcemia)
- Certain medications (e.g., diuretics; opioids; tricyclic antidepressants)
The first step you should take is to change your diet and lifestyle to see if that helps your bowel movements. If constipation does not improve then it’s time to see your doctor. Make sure to write down any other symptoms you may be experiencing along with constipation such as abdominal pain, fatigue, unexpected weight loss, or hair loss. We will go through the medications you’re taking and decide whether we should run blood tests to rule out certain health problems such as diabetes or thyroid function.
In some cases, a gastroenterologist may recommend a colonoscopy, which allows your doctor to be able to better examine the colon and large intestines to look for obstructions, bleeds, ulcers, inflammation, irritable bowel disease, or other possible causes of constipation.
Most patients can improve their constipation issues through simple dietary and lifestyle changes, or through over-the-counter products; however, if you still don’t get relief, our gastroenterologist may recommend a prescription-strength medication that can help with chronic constipation.
If chronic constipation is caused by an underlying health problem such as diabetes or hypothyroidism you must get the proper medication and treatment you need from your doctor. By getting these health problems under control we can also alleviate your gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Certain medications
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive amounts of dairy products, including cheese and milk
- Not going to the toilet frequently enough
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Abusing laxatives
- Changing your diet to include fiber
- Drinking plenty of water throughout the day to soften stool
- Staying as active as possible
- Switching routine medications (with your doctor's approval)
- Limited use of laxatives (enemas, glycerin suppositories, stimulant laxatives)
- Daily fiber supplements (psyllium or bran cereals) or stool softeners
Being constipated means your bowel movements happen less often than normal. Everyone goes through it at some point. Fortunately, there are many treatments that can provide relief. Treatment for constipation usually begins with diet and lifestyle changes meant to increase the speed at which stool moves through your digestive tract. If those changes don't help, your gastroenterologist may recommend other treatment options.
1. Poor diet- A common cause of constipation is a diet high in refined sugar (desserts and other sweets), and animal fats (dairy products, eggs, meats, but low in fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains), especially insoluble fiber, which helps move stool through the colon and promote bowel movements. Studies show that high dietary fiber intake results in larger stools and more frequent bowel movements.
2. IBS- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common causes of constipation. IBS is an intestinal disorder that affects the large intestine. Signs and symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, or both. IBS treatments include diet and lifestyle changes and medications.
3. Bowel habits- You can start a cycle of constipation by suppressing the urge to defecate. After a period of time, you may stop feeling the urge. This can lead to progressive constipation. Research shows that ignoring the urge to defecate may slow down the transit through the digestive tract.
4. Pregnancy- Pregnancy is also a common cause of constipation. Constipation affects 50 percent of women at some point during their pregnancy. Constipation in pregnant women is thought to occur due to an increase in the hormone progesterone, which relaxes the digestive tract. This means that food passes through the digestive tract more slowly.
5. Medications- Many medications can cause constipation. These include antacids that contain calcium or aluminum, pain medications, tranquilizers, antispasmodic drugs, antidepressant drugs, anticonvulsants, and calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and heart conditions.
6. Laxative Abuse- Laxatives are substances that loosen stools and increase bowel movements. They are used to treat constipation. The long-term use of laxative drugs can cause constipation. People who take frequent doses of laxative drugs become dependent upon them and may require higher doses until, finally, the intestinal muscles become weak and fail to work properly.
The severity of constipation varies from person to person. Most individuals only experience constipation for a few days. For some people, constipation goes on for longer and makes life miserable. If you're suffering from constipation, you should make an appointment with a gastroenterologist.
Though many people never know they have one due to lack of symptoms, a hiatal hernia can cause complications which can affect your daily life. Knowing the signs and symptoms of this condition can help you spot its presence, alert your gastroenterologist, and get the treatment you need.
What is a hiatal hernia?
Your chest and abdomen are separated by a large muscle called the diaphragm. The esophagus passes through a small opening in the diaphragm and brings food from the mouth, down the throat, and into the stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach pushes through the hole and begins bulging out of the other side, into the chest. Though small hiatal hernias are often nothing to worry about and do not produce symptoms, larger hernias may cause potentially serious complications.
Do I have a hiatal hernia?
A small hernia often does not produce any symptoms at all. However, larger hernias can cause some issues that can affect your day-to-day life:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Regurgitation of foods (into the mouth)
- Acid reflux
- Vomiting blood or passing black stool
- Shortness of breath
If you think you have a hiatal hernia, you should see your doctor to ensure that you receive the care you need.
How does a gastroenterologist diagnose a hiatal hernia?
It is not uncommon for a gastroenterologist to find a hernia while investigating the cause of heartburn, abdominal pain, or other symptoms. Some diagnostic tools they may use include x-rays or upper endoscopy. They will also gather your medical, family, and lifestyle history to further investigate the cause of your symptoms.
Hiatal Hernia Treatments
If a person with a hernia does not experience any symptoms or complications, they may not need any treatment at all. However, if the patient begins experiencing discomfort, their doctor will probably suggest beginning treatment for their condition. Medications, such as antacids or medication to reduce the body’s acid production, can help with symptoms of a hernia. In more severe cases, a surgical procedure to repair a hernia or make the hole in the diaphragm smaller may become necessary.
Your gastroenterologist can help you find the best treatment plan for you. If you think you have a hernia or are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms such as recurrent acid reflux or heartburn, you should speak with your doctor.
Having trouble going to the bathroom? Find out what might be to blame.
Constipation is an annoying and embarrassing problem that all of us will experience at some point. Constipation is when you are unable to have a bowel movement or you have trouble passing stools. If you are having less than three bowel movements a week then you could be dealing with constipation.
This problem isn’t usually something to worry about, as it usually resolves itself on its own. Of course, there are times in which you may want to turn to a gastroenterologist for care.
What causes constipation?
This usually happens when the stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract, making it difficult to expel. Causes of constipation include:
- Poor diet
- Bowel obstruction
- Anal fissures
- Bowel stricture (narrowing of the colon)
- Conditions that affect the nerves of the colon or rectum (e.g. stroke; Parkinson’s disease)
- Weak pelvic muscles
- Hormone changes due to pregnancy, diabetes, or certain thyroid disorders
There are also certain factors that can increase your chances for chronic constipation:
- Age (older adults are more likely to experience constipation)
- Not getting enough fiber in your diet
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- Taking certain medications (e.g. antidepressants; blood pressure medications)
- Certain mental health disorders such as depression
How can you prevent constipation?
If you deal with constipation regularly there are some ways to help lessen the chances for this problem. Make sure that you are drinking enough water throughout the day and include a lot of fiber-rich foods in your diet such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans. Stay away from processed foods, and make sure you are staying active.
When should I see a doctor?
It’s a good idea to give your GI doctor a call if you’ve been experiencing constipation for over 3 weeks or if lifestyle modifications such as drinking more water or adding more fiber to your diet just aren’t working. It’s also important to see a specialist as soon as possible if your constipation is accompanied by pain or if you see blood on the toilet paper (this could be a sign of hemorrhoids or an anal fissure).
If you are experiencing chronic or severe constipation it’s a good idea to turn to a GI specialist who will help you get to the root of the problem and help get your digestive tract moving in the right direction.