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What Happens During an Exam?

Your doctor will probably ask for a medical history. He or she will ask questions about your constipation, including:

  • When your constipation started
  • How often you normally have bowel movements
  • The consistency of your stools and whether you have to strain during bowel movements
  • Whether you've noticed blood in your stools
  • What other constipation symptoms you're experiencing (abdominal pain, vomiting, unexplained weight loss)
  • What, if anything, seems to relieve your constipation or make it worse
  • Your eating habits
  • Your family and personal history of colon cancer or digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • What medicines you're taking

These questions may sound personal, but they're the only way your doctor can learn why you're constipated and find the best constipation treatment for you.

Don't be embarrassed or afraid to also ask your doctor questions, such as:

  • How often should I go to the bathroom?
  • How much fluid should I drink each day?
  • How much fiber do I need to eat?
  • Which type of laxative will help my constipation while causing the fewest side effects?
  • How soon should my constipation improve?
  • Do I need to see a gastroenterologist?
  • When should I make an appointment to see you again?

During the exam, the doctor may insert a gloved, lubricated finger into your anus to check for a blockage or signs of blood. You may also have tests to rule out conditions that can cause constipation.  

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend that you have tests such as a barium enema X-ray, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. These diagnostic tests allow your doctor to look for problems in your intestines, colon, and rectum.  

Once the cause of your constipation has been determined, your doctor will discuss treatments with you. Common constipation treatments include adding more fiber to your diet and taking laxatives.

Stay in touch with your doctor while following your constipation treatment. You may need to switch treatments if one isn't working. It’s possible to become dependent on laxatives and need them to have a bowel movement. In that case, your doctor may have to wean you off laxatives to get your system back to normal.  

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