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Most everyone experience an occasional bout of constipation, usually as a result of poor food choices including eating a diet low in fiber or “roughage.” But chronic constipation can be a symptom of a more serious issue, including inflammatory bowel disease, nerve-related problems, bowel obstructions, muscular problems or colon cancer. Hormonal fluctuations or diseases like diabetes and thyroid disease can also cause constipation. Even when chronic constipation is not caused by a serious underlying disease, without treatment it can cause other issues like fissure, hemorrhoids, rectal prolapse or bowel incontinence. One or two days of sluggish bowel movements may not be anything to worry about. But generally speaking, constipation that occurs on a repeated basis or that lasts for a prolonged period or constipation accompanied by other symptoms like bleeding, pain or fever needs to be evaluated by a doctor.
Determining the cause of diarrhea begins with a physical examination and a review of the patient’s symptoms as well as their medical history. Depending on the extent and duration of symptoms, a colonoscopy, enteroscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy may be performed to evaluate specific portions of the colon or small intestine. Blood tests and stool sample analysis may also be performed.
Some acute or even chronic cases of constipation can be effectively managed with dietary changes, including an increase in fiber-rich foods and fluids or by avoiding foods known to cause constipation. Fiber supplements may also be helpful. Generally, over-the-counter laxatives should be avoided unless prescribed by a doctor since using them too often can cause complications. When constipation is caused by underlying diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gallbladder problems, thyroid disease or another cause, medication may be prescribed to address those issues. In patients with colon cancer or bowel obstructions, surgery may be needed to remove the tumor or obstruction or to perform other repairs on the bowel.