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Signs You Have Constipation, Say Physicians

Be watchful of your bathroom habits.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Characterized by a lack of regular bowel movements, constipation can be uncomfortable to experience. When it becomes chronic, it can even interfere with your everyday life. In many cases, you can make simple lifestyle changes to relieve constipation. But it's important to know when to see a doctor about constipation to evaluate whether it could signify a potentially serious health condition. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Is Constipation?

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"Constipation is a very common problem in the United States, with some studies showing upwards of 20% of the population with some form of it," says Junsuke Maki, MD, a a gastroenterologist at Shore Gastroenterology Associates in New Jersey. The symptoms of constipation may include:

  • Straining with defecation
  • A sense of incomplete evacuation
  • Having less than 3 bowel movements per week. 

"Each symptom of constipation can be treated differently and therefore it is best to have a conversation with your gastroenterologist about how to proceed," says Maki. 

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2

Possible Causes of Constipation

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"Digestive issues can be the cause or the result of unresolved chronic constipation," says Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM, a family medicine physician in Los Angeles. "For example, constipation is a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, and slowed motility." It can also result from Parkinson's disease, colon cancer, hypothyroidism, and damaged nerves or muscles in the colon.

Other causes of constipation include:

  • An unhealthy diet. "The Standard American Diet is high in fat and low in fiber," says Lam. "Fiber keeps things moving through the intestines. Too much dairy can also cause constipation." The USDA recommends a daily fiber intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men, up to age 50. Women and men older than 50 should get 21 and 30 grams each day, respectively.
  • Dehydration. Water also helps keep things moving smoothly. 
  • Sedentary lifestyle. "Not moving your body on a daily basis will lead to lazy digestion and elimination," says Lam.
  • Certain types of medication and supplements. These include iron supplements, NSAIDs, calcium supplements, antacids, antipsychotics, and diuretics. "If you suspect your medication may be the cause, speak to your doctor about it," says Lam.
  • Pregnancy. "An increase in progesterone during pregnancy can cause your muscles to relax, including the intestinal muscles," says Lam.

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3

When to See a Doctor

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If you've had constipation for three weeks or more, it's a good idea to consult your doctor to see if a medical condition is causing the issue. If you're experiencing constipation along with abdominal pain, blood in the stool, bleeding from the rectum, or unintended weight loss, or you've had an unexpected new onset of constipation, you should see your doctor ASAP.

And to ensure your health don't miss these 101 Health Habits You Didn't Know Were Deadly.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael