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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 constipation.

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 obstruction.

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 life

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 perceive constipation.

"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

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