What is Constipation?

Constipation is a term used to describe a change in bowel habits where patients find it difficult to pass stool, may notice a frequent need to strain, or have the sensation that the bowels are not empty. Having fewer than three bowel movements per week is a clear indication of constipation. This is a common gastrointestinal problem that can occur either suddenly or chronically, and it is not uncommon for people of all ages to have an occasional bout of constipation. If diagnosed as chronic, treatment for constipation becomes dependent upon treating the underlying cause.

What are the Causes of Constipation?

Normally, as food moves through the colon, it absorbs water. Muscle contractions then push the formed stool toward the rectum as most of the water is absorbed and the stool becomes solid. Stress, changes in routine, and conditions that slow muscle contractions of the colon or delay your urge to go may lead to constipation. If it occurs suddenly, conditions that may cause constipation include:

  • A blockage in the colon or rectum (e.g., a narrowing of the colon)
  • Complications with the muscles that participate in stool elimination, including the inability to relax the muscles
  • Nerve dysfunction around the colon as a result of a medical condition, such as a stroke or multiple sclerosis
  • Taking certain medications

What are the Symptoms of Constipation?

Each individual’s definition of normal bowel movements may be different. However, the most common signs and symptoms of constipation are: 

  • Difficult and painful bowel movements
  • Bowel movements that occur fewer than three times a week
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Feeling sluggish
  • A sense the bowels have not been completely emptied

If you’ve experienced two or more of these symptoms regularly over the past few months, constipation may be considered chronic. Talk to your doctor about the most suitable treatment options for your unique situation. 

How is Constipation Diagnosed?

Diagnosis for constipation usually begins with a general physical exam and a digital rectal exam, as well as reviewing the patient’s medical history. In addition, your doctor may use one or more tests and procedures to identify the cause of your symptoms and determine whether you have chronic constipation. The tests performed will depend on the duration and severity of the constipation, as well as the patient’s age and the presence of recent changes in bowel habits or weight loss. Diagnostic tests may include:

How is Constipation Treated?

Individualized treatment for constipation will vary based on specific factors determined by your gastroenterologist at DHC. Chronic constipation can typically be treated through diet and lifestyle changes, which help to relieve symptoms and prevent the condition from occurring frequently. If making these adjustments fails to relieve constipation, your physician may recommend the following treatments:

  • Exercise
  • Increasing fiber intake/fiber supplements
  • Laxatives, such as:
    • Osmotics
    • Lubricants
    • Stimulants
    • Stool softeners
  • Paying attention to bowel movement urges to identify patterns that can lead to the underlying cause
  • Prescribed medications that draw water into the intestines
  • Medications in clinical trials
  • Surgery (only an option in the case of anal fissures, rectocele, or anal strictures)
  • Training pelvic muscles to relax and tighten properly (known as biofeedback training)

Constipation Relief in New Jersey

If you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms related to constipation, Digestive Healthcare Center is here to help you find relief. Our team of expert gastroenterologists in NJ will work closely with you to ensure that your specific needs are met with the utmost care and compassion. We have years of experience providing a wide variety of both surgical and nonsurgical gastroenterology services, and we will work to determine the cause of your constipation so you can get back to more comfortable living. After a thorough evaluation, we will develop a treatment plan tailored specifically to you and answer any questions you may have about your care. To learn more about our gastroenterology services in NJ or to schedule an appointment, please contact us today.

Treatment for Common Gastroenterology Conditions at Digestive Healthcare Center

At Digestive Healthcare Center, we are proud to give those in NJ convenient access to comprehensive gastroenterology care. Patients can choose to meet with our physicians at one of our three gastroenterology centers in NJ, or from the comfort of their home via a virtual telemedicine appointment.