Understanding Treatment for Constipation

How Do I Know if I Am Constipated?

Occasional constipation doesn't indicate a need to see a doctor, but you should seek professional advice for a persistent problem.

During a physical exam, the doctor will check your abdomen for any sign of a hardened mass and may conduct a rectal exam.

He or she may also take a blood sample and examine your colon with a sigmoidoscope or a colonoscope, a flexible tube with a video camera that is inserted into the rectum. You might also need a barium enema, which coats the intestinal lining so it can be seen on an X-ray.

What Are the Treatments for Constipation?

Most cases of constipation respond to conservative treatment, such as dietary and exercise changes or mild laxatives.

Your doctor will probably start treatment by recommending more fiber or bulk in your diet. Over-the-counter laxatives are generally safe to use, with few side effects. However, as with any OTC medication, it is very important to read the instructions on the drug label carefully, take the drug as recommended on the label, and not exceed the maximum dose. Overusing laxatives can lead to potentially serious side effects. 

Your doctor will also encourage you to take adequate time for moving your bowels and not to suppress the urge to have a bowel movement. Increasing exercise is also important if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. For stubborn constipation in older children or adults, the doctor may recommend a non-digestible sugar called lactulose or specially formulated electrolyte solutions. Polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX) is available over the counter for short-term use for constipation in children and adults. Linaclotide (Linzess), lubiprostone (Amitiza), and plecanatide (Trulance) are prescription drugs for long-term use in chronic constipation in adults and the elderly. 

Over-the-counter laxatives are generally safe to use, with few side effects. However, as with any OTC medication, it is very important to read the instructions on the drug label carefully, take the drug as recommended on the label, and not exceed the maximum dose

Fecal impaction is a more serious form of constipation that sometimes affects the elderly and disabled. To release hardened material in the rectum, a doctor inserts a gloved finger and manually breaks up the solidified stool. A gentle enema using warm water or mineral oil may also be helpful.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on March 29, 2017

Sources

SOURCES: 

Family Practice Notebook. 

The Mayo Clinic. 

FDA.

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