Constipation: Causes & Symptoms

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Constipation is categorized by some people as hardening and difficulty in passing stools, and a sense of an incomplete bowel movement is also felt by many people who complain of constipation.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is a digestive condition wherein bowel movements are irregular. It is defined by medical experts as a decreased number of bowel movements per week, specifically, less than 3 bowel movements per week. It is caused by a stiffening of stool near the rectum which causes an obstruction for smooth stool passage, resulting in difficulty to defecate.

Characterizing Constipation

An ideal frequency of bowel movements is considered to be at least one or two bowel movements per day without any difficulty, although there is no standard for the number of bowel movements. The bowel movements of one person may be different from another person because of changes in their lifestyle and other significant factors. Normally, 40-50% of people have a frequency of 1-2bowels movements per day.

The University of Bristol had developed the Bristol Stool Scale, which categorizes human feces on a scale of 1 to 7. According to it, a scale of 1 to 3 has been categorized as chronic and severe constipation due to the appearance of the stool. 4 and 5 have been categorized as a normal condition and 6 and 7 tend to be conditions like diarrhea.

  • Severe or acute constipation: It is characterized as not more than one bowel movement per week. Under chronic constipation, bowel movements have been observed to be only once every 15 to 20 days or more. In either case, severe or chronic cases have to be treated urgently.
  • Normal constipation: It also requires attention. It can range from one bowel movement to three bowel movements per week. This type can be cured with remedies that are very simple and yet provide the best results.


Let us discuss the causes of constipation in detail below.

  • Lack of Hydration: Water is one of the major components in the human body. It constitutes about 70% of the body and is the best organic carrier and solvent. It is a key ingredient of the digestive system since it helps in absorbing the digested food in the small intestine and in the movement of undigested food into large intestine or colon and from there through the rectum and anus. During this process, water helps in giving a smooth texture to the stool and helps in steady movement. A lack of appropriate amounts of water in the colon forces the stool to accumulate and turn hard, therefore making bowel movements very slow.
  • Drugs and Medication: Drugs and medication are often overlooked but certain types of medications can also cause constipation. These medicines include antacids, anticholinergics, antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, cholestyramine, clonidine, diuretics, levodopa, narcotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, psychotropic, and sympathomimetics. (Ratnaike, R.N. (1999))
  • Stress: Stress is known to be one of the causes of constipation. People who suffer from stress and anxiety have lower levels of gastrocolic reflex, which in turn causes this issue. Some people tend to suppress the urge to visit the restroom due to certain conditions. As a result, the stools harden up and do not move even when considerable pressure is applied, thus leading to constipation.
  • Improper Diet: Diet is perhaps the most important thing to consider in case of constipation. Diet without the regular and significant intake of dietary fiber is considered to be the root cause of constipation. Fiber is the undigested food material which helps in stool formation and its movement. Fiber helps in creating bulk out of loose stools, which allows them to easily pass through the colon. Without sufficient fiber, stools become hard and difficult to move. In some cases, people who follow improper diet patterns also face this condition. The consumption of dairy products and animal products can be attributed to an increase of constipation, mainly because these dairy and animal products lack dietary fiber.
  • Physical Conditions: Certain conditions, such as diabetes mellitus, hypocalcemia, hyperparathyroidism, hypokalemia, hypothyroidism, pregnancy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Hirschsprung’s disease are known to cause constipation.
  • Abuse of Laxatives: Contrary to popular belief, an abuse of laxatives creates a condition called lazy colon syndrome in which the peristaltic movements in the colon that push the stools out is stopped. After extended use of laxatives, the colon will lose its ability to make these movements, thereby resulting in this condition.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration is related to water itself, but under certain conditions, dehydration can cause constipation. Constipation during the summer season is often seen because people are dehydrated. During the summertime, the water that is present in the digestive system is diverted to control the body temperature. Water is released in the form of sweat and water vapor. This loss of water must be replenished as quickly as possible so that the digestive process can begin.


Constipation rarely turns serious and is more of a bothersome condition than anything else. Though, sometimes it can also be a symptom of another more serious condition. The symptoms of constipation include:

  • Stomachache
  • Swollen tummy
  • Hard stools
  • Difficulty in passing stool
  • Anal bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Pain during bowel movements
  • Bloating
  • Lethargy
  • A backache

Chronic constipation may lead to the development of hemorrhoids, anal fissures, fecal impaction, and rectal prolapse, which is why it should be treated as soon as the first symptom appears.

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