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Constipation

Normal frequency of bowel movement or volume of stool varies widely from person to person. A decrease in the frequency of bowel movements, accompanied by prolonged or difficult passage of stools, or a sense of incomplete evacuation are all expressed constipation. Constipation is a common symptom among older people. Older people are five times more likely to complain about the symptom than younger people, possibly because of an undue concern about their bowel movement.

Constipation results from a variety of causes. Of them a structural abnormality in the lower gastrointestinal tract is of highest concern. In advancing years the emphasis is on excluding colorectal cancer. Fortunately, the vast majority of patients who complain of constipation usually have benign causes to explain their symptom, the commonest of which is irritable bowel syndrome or a motility disorder of the large gut. Other important causes include effect of medicines, lack of exercise, lack of enough fibre and fluid in diet and excessive dependence on laxatives.

Medicines given for other conditions such as antacids, anti-depressants, antihistamines, diuretics, drugs for Parkinson’ disease, drugs for high blood pressure, iron preparations, muscle relaxants and opiates can produce constipation in some people. Diet low in vegetables, fruits and whole grains and rich in egg, meat and milk or milk products is by far the most important modifiable cause of constipation. In addition, not eating enough food or preferring soft food aggravate constipation.

Prolonged bed rest or immobility due to an accident or illness and ignoring the natural urge to have a bowel movement can result in constipation. Treatment For a recently developed symptom, you should consult the doctor for exclusion of a more serious problem. When a structural abnormality has been ruled out,

the following measures usually help:

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and more whole-grain cereals and breads. Cut back on processed foods such as sweets and foods high in fat.
  • Drink plenty of liquids (6 to 8 tumblers of fluid) unless you have heart, circulatory, or kidney problems.But drinking large quantities of milk can also cause constipation.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • Develop a regular bowel habit by spending some time in the toilet at a fixed hour of the day everyday even if there is no urge.
  • Avoid taking laxatives if at all possible and limit the intake of antacids.