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Chronic Constipation: Facts vs. Myths

Learn how to relieve chronic constipation.

Chronic Constipation: When to See Your Doctor continued...

After testing, Rao says that an estimated one-third of those individuals with chronic constipation might have normal results. The colon and rectum are normal, but there's still hypersensitivity, pain, and discomfort when having a bowel movement.

"But nearly one-third of those with chronic constipation have dyssynergic defecation," Rao says. "People with dyssynergic defecation cannot sense stool in their bowel or have difficulty using bodily mechanisms to expel the stool. Many with dyssynergic defecation are unaware that this is the cause of their constipation and often they don't seek help beyond using over-the-counter laxatives."

For those chronic constipation sufferers with dyssynergic defecation, Rao recommends biofeedback. "This is a simple, noninvasive therapy that can correct improper contraction of the pelvic floor muscles and external anal sphincter during defecation," says Rao. "This nondrug therapy has been shown categorically to be the only effective method to correct the behavior as these patients learn what is wrong and then learn how to correct it."

Traditional over-the-counter laxatives may work in relieving chronic constipation. Rao recommends senna products, magnesium, and fiber supplements. The prescription medication, Amitiza® (lubiprostone), a chloride channel activator that enhances intestinal fluid secretion, may also help in relieving chronic constipation.

When Chronic Constipation Is a Warning Sign

Changes in your bowel habits may be a warning sign of a viral or bacterial infection, obstruction, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or colon cancer. If you have one or more of the following symptoms, call your health care provider:

  • Constipation that lasts for more than two weeks
  • Severe diarrhea lasting more than two days
  • Mild diarrhea lasting a week
  • Unexplained urges to have a bowel movement
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Black or tarry-colored stools
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Reviewed on June 20, 2007
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