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Dangers of Untreated Constipation

Dangers of Untreated Constipation

The average person may easily pass stools as often as three times a day or as infrequently as three times a week. Being constipated typically means you have hard, dry, or lumpy stools that you pass fewer than three times a week, often with pain or difficulty. 

Constipation is a frequent complaint among people of all ages, but it’s especially common among older adults: In the United States, about 16% of young and middle-aged adults — and a full one-third of older and elderly adults — experience constipation on a routine basis. 

When constipation goes from a temporary problem to a persistent condition, it’s time to seek professional care. Read on as board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Sam Weissman explores the common complications of persistent constipation and explains the importance of timely diagnosis and treatment.

How can I tell if I’m constipated?

When it comes to healthy bowel movement frequency, everyone’s different — in other words, how often you normally pass stools is unique to you. For some people, it’s normal to have up to three bowel movements a day; for others, one bowel movement a day or every other day is the norm. 

You may be constipated if you’re passing fewer bowel movements than what’s normal for you or you’re having a harder time passing stools. In medical terms, constipation symptoms are formally defined as:

Constipation can range from mild to severe; it can also be short-term (acute) or persistent (chronic). Chronic constipation symptoms may be continuous, or they may come and go over time. 

Why is unresolved constipation unhealthy?

When chronic constipation goes unaddressed, it can lead to various complications, ranging from internal tissue damage to infection. The dangers of not having soft, regular bowel movements include:

Hemorrhoids

When you routinely strain to pass stool, it can cause the veins in and around your anus and/or rectum to swell under pressure. Known as hemorrhoids or piles, these swollen, inflamed veins can cause pain, itching, and rectal bleeding.

Anal fissures

When hardened stools routinely pass through your anus, they can eventually tear its delicate lining. Known as an anal fissure, this constipation complication is another common cause of rectal bleeding and pain.

Fecal impaction

When the stool isn’t expelled at a normal rate, it can accumulate in your colon, rectum, and anus. Fecal impaction occurs when a buildup of hardened stools becomes trapped and can’t pass out of your body. 

Diverticulitis 

Constipation-related strain can also cause diverticulosis or the formation of small pouches along the colon wall. If fecal impaction fills these pouches with stool, the trapped fecal matter may cause the area to become infected and inflamed. This condition is known as diverticulitis.

Urinary incontinence 

Straining to move your bowels can put a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor or the muscles that help control your bladder. This can lead to stress, urinary incontinence, or urinary leakage that occurs when physical exertion puts pressure on your bladder or pelvic floor.

How can I relieve chronic constipation?

Addressing chronic constipation — ideally early on — is the only way to prevent or reduce your risk of constipation-related complications. Because your bowel habits can be influenced by a variety of factors, it’s important to seek a thorough evaluation and diagnosis. 

Getting to the root cause

Constipation is often caused by dietary factors, such as eating a low-fiber diet or not drinking enough fluids; it can also result from sitting too much or not getting enough exercise. It’s more common during pregnancy, when traveling, and with age. 

In some cases, chronic constipation is a symptom of an underlying health condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, or diabetes; in other cases, it’s caused by taking certain medications or supplements. 

Individualized treatment approach 

Once Dr. Weissman understands the factors that play a role in your chronic constipation, he can formulate a comprehensive treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific case. 

At a minimum, relief for severe or chronic constipation usually involves dietary changes (more fiber and water), activity changes (more exercise), and — at least initially — taking laxatives or stool softeners. 

Depending on your case, it may also involve avoiding certain dietary supplements, switching medications, and managing any underlying health conditions contributing to the problem. 

If you’ve been living with persistent untreated constipation, we can help. Call 609-793-9375 to reach our office in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, today, or use the easy online booking feature to schedule a visit at Sam Weismann, MD, any time. 

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