Chronic Constipation: Facts vs. Myths
Learn how to relieve chronic constipation.
Chronic Constipation: More Prevalent Today?
Are Americans becoming increasingly constipated? Rao says there's simply
more awareness of constipation today.
"In the past, people who suffered with chronic constipation, diarrhea,
irritable bowel syndrome, or even incontinence, kept it to themselves. They
stayed at home much of the time and tolerated the uncomfortable symptoms,"
Rao tells WebMD. "Today's baby boomers are unwilling to accept problems
like chronic constipation. They know that medical advances are excellent and
these health issues can be successfully treated and resolved."
Rao says that constipation is not about frequency (or infrequency) of
bowel movements, but rather chronic constipation is a "symptom
complex." Rao explains the symptoms of chronic constipation as follows:
- Excessive straining
- Hard stools
- Feeling of incomplete evacuation
- Use of digital evacuationsuch as support of the pelvic floor
- A sensation that you cannot go or will not be able to go (because of
- A decrease in frequency
Chronic constipation may be associated with normal or slow stool transit
time, functional defecation disorder (dyssynergic defecation) or a combination
of both. With slow-transit constipation, there is a prolonged delay in the
transit of stool through the colon. Dyssynergic or outlet obstruction (also
called pelvic floor dyssynergia) is characterized by either difficulty or
inability to expel the stool. With pelvic floor dysfunction (dyssynergic
defecation), the muscles of the lower pelvis that surround the rectum (the
pelvic floor muscles) do not work normally. A third type of constipation occurs
with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) where constipation alternates with bouts of
Chronic Constipation: Why Are Baby Boomers at Risk?
If you're a baby boomer born between 1946 and 1964, you may wonder if
chronic constipation tends to increase with age. McIlwain tells WebMD that
there are several different causes that trigger constipation in aging
"As adults age, we tend to become more sedentary, eat and drink less,
and take in much less fiber in our daily diet," says McIlwain, "all of
which are habits that aggravate chronic constipation."
Then, according to McIlwain, more problems occur when you are constipated
and start depending on laxatives. "Within days, this laxative habit can
aggravate the cycle of chronic constipation and the need to take another
laxative and then another."
Not only do lifestyle habits put boomers at risk for chronic constipation,
but McIlwain says that many over-the-counter and prescription medications
commonly taken to treat arthritis, back pain, hypertension, allergies, and even
depression can result in chronic constipation.
"When older adults are treated with multiple medications for health
problems, chronic constipation can be the result," says McIlwain. "The
most common medications that aggravate constipation are narcotic analgesics
like codeine and Tylenol (Tylenol #3), oxycodone (Oxycontin), proposyphene and
acetaminophen (Darvocet), and hydromophone (Dilaudid), which are sometimes used
for severe pain of osteoarthritis, inflammatory arthritis, disc disease, and
other problems. Because these stronger pain medications are known to cause
chronic constipation, many physicians go ahead and treat the constipation at
the same time the pain medications are prescribed -- before chronic
constipation develops and becomes severe and unmanageable."