Chronic Constipation: Facts vs. Myths
Learn how to relieve chronic constipation.
Chronic Constipation: Why Are Baby Boomers at Risk? continued...
For people of all ages, certain medications do result in chronic
constipation, including some analgesics for pain, antidepressants, and
medications to treat hypertension, among others. Iron supplements that many
women of childbearing age take in their daily multivitamin increases the chance
of chronic constipation, as can pregnancy.
What does McIlwain recommend to boomers for relieving chronic constipation?
"Stay active and exercise daily," says Mcllwain. "Also, watch your
fluids and drink even when you don't feel thirsty, as older adults sometimes
lose this thirst mechanism that alerts us to drink fluids. Add more fiber to
your diet and maybe consider a stool softener, if necessary."
McIlwain also recommends low-dose magnesium hydroxide (Phillips® Milk of
Magnesia or Ducolax® Milk of Magnesia) to his patients for relieving chronic
Chronic Constipation: When to See Your Doctor
If you have chronic constipation or if constipation is new or is a change in
your normal bowel habits, give your doctor a call. Because chronic constipation
may be an early symptom of serious problems such as colon cancer, your doctor
will ask about your medical history, perform a physical examination, and then
do laboratory testing for screening purposes. Some medical conditions such as
hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson's disease, and diabetes can
also cause chronic constipation. Treating the disease itself may help in
relieving chronic constipation.
Your doctor will perform a rectal examination to look for hemorrhoids or
tears caused by straining and will check the function of the anal sphincter
muscles. If your medical history, physical exam, and lab results give no clues
as to the cause of chronic constipation, your doctor may order an imaging study
of the colon and rectum to rule out more serious problems such as an
Once your doctor determines your diagnosis, relieving chronic constipation
may involve a multidisciplinary approach with diet and lifestyle changes and
over-the-counter or prescription medications. If your doctor finds that your
chronic constipation needs regular medical management, you might consider going
to a gastroenterologist with special interest and expertise in the field of
constipation. Assistance from such a health care provider can go a long way
towards relieving chronic constipation long term and improving your quality of
When you meet with your doctor, have a list of questions ready to ask him or
her, and be assertive when describing the signs and symptoms of chronic
constipation. According to Rao, there's a major problem in how doctors today
"Physicians are too dismissive of symptoms when patients tell of having
chronic constipation," says Rao, "and patients must be more forceful in
describing their problem with constipation. Physicians must ask more questions
to find out what's really going on."
To gain an understanding of the mechanism that's causing chronic
constipation, Rao uses specific tests, including a colonic transit study, a
balloon expulsion, and anal rectometry