Generally defined as a difficulty or an inability to pass stool, constipation can range from being a mild annoyance to a serious health issue. So, just why exactly do people experience this crummy condition, anyway? And how can someone deal with the side effects of constipation?
Let’s break it all down.
Why does constipation happen?
Constipation is generally caused when stool moves too slowly through the intestinal tract, causing it to become hardened and lumpy. And hard lumpy stool is much more difficult to pass, meaning people often have to strain to excrete any waste with this condition.
What are the side effects of constipation?
While many of these symptoms and side effects may seem obvious and rather benign, some can cause more serious health concerns, which may include the following…
10. Feeling Blockages
The feeling of having blockages in your intestinal tract is common when dealing with constipation.
What is this side effect?
Hardened stool is more difficult to pass through the intestinal tract, causing discomfort. These hardened pieces of stool can get stuck, blocking up the intestinal tract. The result? Increased pressure or even a sharp stabbing sensation.
There are a few actions you can take to alleviate the blockage issues on your own.
- If the blockage feels like it is near or at the rectum, you can attempt to use your finger or a cotton swab to help clear out the blockage.
- If the blockage feels like it is a bit deeper, you can massage your abdomen to try to help move the blockage, or try a home enema kit.
- If the blockage causes extreme pain or persists for days at a time, seek medical treatment, as prolonged constipation can cause more serious health issues, such as the following…
9. Impacted Colon
An impacted colon is the result of a problem in the digestive process, leaving waste stuck in the colon… which means other waste is blocked from exiting the body and backs up. In some cases, chronic constipation can lead to this very issue.
What are the symptoms of impacted colon?
- Abdominal bloating
- Lack of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Rapid heart rate
Since the blockage to the colon can be rather deep in the abdomen, an impacted colon usually refers to a complete blockage of the digestive pathway. Therefore, it is best to seek medical treatment if you believe you have an impacted colon.
Your doctor can run a variety of tests, including:
- Feeling for blockages manually
- Taking x-rays
General treatments for an impacted colon include:
- Manual removal of the blockage
What is colonic irrigation?
This process involves a small tube being run up the rectum and to the colon. From there, water is used to clear the blocked area. Then, the waste is sucked out through another tube, and any other remaining waste build-up is massaged out of the abdomen.
What are some ways to prevent recurrence of impacted colon?
People who have previously had an impacted colon are at higher risk of recurring issues. Drinking lots of water, reducing sugar intake, and eating foods high in fiber can act as preventative measures.
The following potential side effect of constipation? It’s a real pain in the behind…
What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids refer to the inflammation and swelling of veins in or around the rectum and anus.
What are the symptoms of hemorrhoids?
These swollen veins generally cause:
- Itching and sensitivity around the affected area
- Discomfort when sitting
- Pain and irritation during bowel movements
- Bleeding after having a bowel movement or passing stool
Why do hemorrhoids happen?
While the exact cause of hemorrhoids isn’t entirely clear, it’s theorized that they may be the result of:
- Straining during a bowel movement
- Long periods of sitting
- Chronic constipation
- Consistent diarrhea
There are several potential remedies for constipation, including:
- Soaking in warm water
- Applying heat to the affected area
- Applying OTC creams
- Using suppositories
- Undergoing rubber band ligation treatment
- Receiving injection therapy
Hemorrhoids are largely uncomfortable potential side effects of constipation. The following, though, might appear more alarming to many people…
7. Rectal Bleeding
Rectal bleeding is an alarming sign. However, sometimes it might just be surface-level bleeding, which is typically not cause for major alarm. Other times, though, this symptom can indicate a more serious problem.
Constipation or something else?
Any number of conditions may cause rectal bleeding. One way to better determine the location and potential cause of the bleeding? The appearance of the blood itself.
- Bright red blood is usually indicative of bleeding in the lower intestinal tract and the colon, as the blood is relatively fresh and hasn’t traveled far from the source of the bleeding.
- Dark red or wine-colored blood generally indicates the source is somewhere in the early portion of the colon or the small intestine.
- Nearly black blood or black stools may indicate the bleeding originated in the stomach or upper small intestine.
What are some common causes of anal bleeding?
Causes of anal bleeding include:
- Anal tears from constipation
- Rectal or intestinal cancer
- Colon cancer
- Intestinal infections
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Don’t Risk It—See a Doctor
Even for small amounts of rectal bleeding, it is important to seek medical treatment. After all, bleeding can become more severe depending on the cause.
If you suffer from more severe symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately. These symptoms include:
- Continual anal bleeding
- Cold and clammy skin
- Fainting or dizziness
- Severe pain
- Rapid breathing
The following side effect of constipation usually is mild, although in some cases it can result in severe complications…
6. Anal Fissures
Anal fissures are small cuts or tears in the lining of the anus. These tears and cuts can cause serious pain and discomfort and are often indicated by bright red blood covering fecal matter or leaking from the anus during or after bowel movements.
How severe are anal fissures?
Anal fissures are usually minor and can affect people of all ages. That being said, some severe cases can expose underlying muscle tissues.
How long do fissures take to heal?
Anal fissures tend to heal on their own in four to six weeks’ time.
What if they don’t heal?
If an anal fissure persists longer than eight weeks? See a doctor, as either the fissure may be too large to heal naturally or there may be an underlying condition preventing it from properly healing. In either case, a professional is needed.
Constipation or something else?
Constipation often results in hard, lumpy stools, which are difficult to pass. In some cases, the stool can be so hard that it tears anal tissue as it exits the body (aka, anal fissures). Constipation isn’t the only cause of anal fissures, though.
For instance, diarrhea may also be to blame. Why? Because diarrhea means a large rush of fecal matter that may overstretch and tear the anal cavity.
Most remedies for anal fissures include taking preventative steps (so they never occur in the first place) and measures to reduce irritating and worsening existing fissures.
These remedies may include:
- Increasing water and fluid intake to help soften stool
- Taking stool softeners or laxatives
- Using various topical creams to help with pain relief and inflammation
In chronic cases of anal fissures, a doctor’s visit may be necessary. The following side effect of constipation? It absolutely requires a doctor’s visit…
5. Colon or Bowel Stricture
Colon or bowel stricture is essentially the narrowing or constricting of the colon or bowels, which inhibits the proper movement of stool and waste through the intestinal tract.
What causes bowel stricture?
There are a variety of conditions that may cause stricture (besides constipation).
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease. The resulting inflammation and scar tissue can restrict the movement of stool through your colon.
- Volvulus, or the colon looping around itself. In some cases, this condition can result in an almost complete blockage of the bowel, which can eventually lead to dangerously high pressure and potentially cause the bowel to rupture.
What are the symptoms of bowel stricture?
Symptoms of bowel stricture generally include:
- Abdominal pain
There are a few different treatments for bowel stricture, which will vary on what exactly the cause is.
- Balloon dilation involves a small balloon being inserted into the colon and inflated within the affected area several times for short periods. This process stretches and widens the stricture.
- A metal coil, or stent, may need to be placed within the stricture. This stent is left inside the bowel to help hold the stricture open.
- A resection removes the stricture; the remaining two ends are sewn together.
- A strictureplasty may be required if either a large portion of your intestine has already been removed or if there are multiple strictures that need to be removed. In a strictureplasty, an incision is made lengthwise along the stricture. Then, the incision is sewn together longways, widening and shortening the stretch of the affected bowel.
What about preventative measures?
You can take preventative measures to avoid bowel stricture by:
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Not smoking
- Not lifting extremely heavy objects
Constipation and resulting hemorrhoids may cause the following concerning condition…
4. Rectal Prolapse
Rectal prolapse is generally caused by straining to expel fecal matter from the bowels; so, severe cases of constipation (or hemorrhoids resulting from constipation) may lead to rectal prolapse.
What is a rectal prolapse?
A prolapse is when a part of your body has slipped or fallen down from its normal positioning. In the case of rectal prolapse, the rectum slips out of alignment. Notably, rectal prolapse means the rectum can still be within the anus (but not where it should be) or partially or fully outside of the anus.
What are the symptoms of rectal prolapse?
If you’re suffering from rectal prolapse, it may be easy to spot visually if the prolapse is fully outside of the body. In cases with partially external or internal cases, though, you’ll have to look for other clues.
Some other signs of rectal prolapse include:
- Feel like you’re sitting on a small ball after a bowel movement
- Pain radiating from the anus
- Anal leakage
What causes rectal prolapse?
Prolapse can be the result of severe straining when having a bowel movement. Given the very nature of constipation, that makes rectal prolapse a possible side effect of severe chronic constipation.
Other potential causes of rectal prolapse include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Weakening or loosening of the rectal muscles
- Nerve damage
In minor cases, you or your doctor can try pushing the rectum back into place by hand. While it can be a temporary fix, surgery is the most common treatment to properly fix the issue. Now, there are several approaches a doctor may take when it comes to surgery.
- The first is going in through the abdomen via small incisions. They will insert a surgical scope in order to repair the issue. This method is minimally invasive.
- The other approach is to perform a rectal repair, in which the surgeon enters through the rectum to fix issues. This approach is more common with older patients, patients with other health issues or concerns, or cases where the rectum has completely distended outside of the body.
The following side effect of constipation isn’t as severe as rectal prolapse, although it can still lead to some severe discomfort…
3. Pelvic Floor Dyssynergia
The pelvic floor muscles play a major role in controlling the body’s regular bowel movements. Normally, the muscles work on their own without much conscious thought. With pelvic floor dyssynergia, these muscles become uncoordinated, making bowel movements more difficult.
How is this condition diagnosed?
The condition is usually diagnosed through one of the following methods:
- Measuring the strength of the rectal muscles using a small probe
- Recording the movements of the muscles in the pelvic floor while attempting to have a bowel movement
- Performing a digital exam using a gloved finger
- An MRI to view the structures of the pelvic floor
There are a wide variety of treatments for pelvic floor dyssynergia. These treatments include:
- Biofeedback techniques to help manually train and control the muscles of the pelvic floor to function properly
- Botulinum toxin injections to help the muscles relax and perform more regularly
- Muscle relaxants
- Surgery in cases when the issue is structural
Some of the side effects of constipation are lesser-known; that cannot be said of the following…
2. Irregular Bowel Movements
Our bodies have a natural rhythm. Namely, they follow certain natural cycles and automatically perform certain functions without us even realizing it. One of these functions? Regular bowel movements.
Unfortunately, constipation can disrupt these regular bowel movements.
Can constipation affect your BM schedule long term?
While minor and intermittent constipation bouts aren’t too much to be concerned about, long-term bouts of constipation or chronic constipation can have an effect on the frequency of your body’s natural bowel movements, slowing everything down even during a constipation remission.
Many remedies for constipation also apply to helping with irregular bowel movements. These methods include:
- Fiber-rich diets
- Drinking plenty of fluids.
If prolonged irregular bowel movements persist, you may want to see a doctor to make sure it isn’t a symptom of another more serious condition.
The final side effect?
The final side effect of constipation? There are more than 3 million new cases of this condition in the United States each year…
The bowels are held in place by a layer of tissue called the omentum. Excess strain or pressure on the bowels or abdomen (as is the case with constipation) can cause the omentum to tear. This initial tearing, in turn, causes portions of the intestinal tract to protrude from the tears. The result? Hernias.
What are the symptoms of hernias?
Symptoms of hernias include:
- Bulging or swelling in the affected area
- Dull abdominal pain
- Tenderness in the affected area
Hernias may require surgery. Typically, hernias are treated with either open surgery or laparoscopy. Which surgery is performed usually depends on the location and severity of the hernia.
- Open surgery is where the abdomen is opened and the omentum is surgically repaired.
- Laparoscopy is where a series of small incisions are made and the omentum is repaired using surgical scopes and laparoscopes.
For children with hernias, sometimes the doctor will simply work the tissue back into place using their finger, and see if the tear heals naturally before resorting to surgical repair.
What’s most important to remember for those battling constipation?…
When dealing with constipation (or really, any health condition), it is important to listen to the signs your body is giving you. In other words, do not ignore symptoms when they appear.
What symptoms are cause for concern?
Most cases of constipation are benign. There are cases, though, when this condition can lead to severe complications. Other times, constipation itself can be a symptom of another underlying medical problem.
So, just what signs signal that something is wrong?
- Intense, sudden pain
- Black stool
- Pencil-thin stool
- Going more than 3 days without a bowel movement
- Pain that does not go away
What are potential treatments for constipation?
Since everyone’s body works differently, finding the best way to prevent and alleviate constipation will be different for everyone.
In most cases, constipation can be cured through simple lifestyle and diet changes. Increasing the amount of physical activity you get throughout the day, making sure you stay hydrated, and maintaining a healthy diet with enough fiber all go a long way in preventing constipation.
Constipation or something else?
If you suffer from chronic constipation, it may be a sign there is an underlying problem. If you suspect this could be the case, speak to your doctor. However, don’t just wait until there’s an emergency to see your healthcare provider. Regular doctor check-ups are important as your doctor may be able to catch more serious health problems before the symptoms become detrimental to your day-to-day life.