How is constipation diagnosed?
Everyone becomes constipated once in a while, but a doctor should be notified if significant changes in bowel patterns last for more than a week or if symptoms continue more than three weeks after increasing activity and fiber and fluid intake.
The patient's observations and medical history help a primary care physician diagnose constipation. The doctor uses his fingers to see if there is a hardened mass in the abdomen, and may perform a rectal examination. Other diagnostic procedures include a barium enema, which reveals blockage inside the intestine; laboratory analysis of blood and stool samples for internal bleeding or other symptoms of systemic disease; and a sigmoidoscopy (examination of the sigmoid area of the colon with a flexible tube equipped with a magnifying lens).
Digital examination of the anorectal area is usually the first step, since it is relatively simple and may provide clues to the underlying causes of the problem. Examination of the intestine with either a flexible lighted instrument or barium x-ray study may help pinpoint the problem and exclude serious conditions known to cause constipation, such as polyps, tumors, or diverticular disease. If an anatomic problem is identified, treatment can be directed toward correcting the abnormality.
Other tests may identify specific functional causes to help direct treatment. For example, "marker studies," in which the patient swallows a capsule containing markers that show up on x-rays taken repeatedly over several days, may provide clues to disorders in muscle function within the intestine. Other physiologic tests evaluate the function of the anus and rectum. These tests may involve evaluating the reflexes of anal muscles that control bowel movements using a small plastic catheter, or x-ray testing to evaluate function of the anus and rectum during defecation.
When constipation develops in someone who has not had it before and there is not an easy explanation, such as a change in diet or physical activity or new use of one of the many drugs known to cause constipation, a doctor may perform blood tests to check for an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) or high calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia), both of which can cause constipation. If there is any question about cancer as a cause, a barium enema x-ray study or colonoscopy is performed. In many cases, no specific anatomic or functional causes are identified and the cause of constipation is said to be nonspecific.
More information on constipation
What is constipation? - Constipation is a condition in which too much water is absorbed from the large intestine back into the bloodstream, leaving the faeces dry, hard and difficult to expel.
What causes constipation? - Constipation is caused by a lack of fibre in the diet. In some people, constipation may result from repeatedly ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement.
What are the symptoms of constipation? - Symptoms associated with constipation include infrequent bowel movements, hard stools, straining when passing a motion, cramps, abdominal bloating, flatulence.
What're risk factors for constipation? - Risk factors for constipation include not enough liquids, lack of exercise, medications, irritable bowel syndrome, abuse of laxatives, and specific diseases.
What are the complications of constipation? - Most cases of constipation are due to inadequate dietary fiber intake, inadequate water intake, and reduced physical activity and are not serious.
How is constipation diagnosed? - The patient's observations and medical history help diagnose constipation. Other diagnostic procedures include a barium enema, which reveals blockage inside the intestine.
What's the treatment for constipation? - The first treatment for constipation is to eat a high fiber diet to provide natural bulk in daily food intake. Laxatives may be used to relieve constipation.
What're the alternative remedies for constipation? - Herbal therapies can be useful in the treatment of constipation. Homeopathy also can offer assistance with constipation.
How to prevent constipation? - Dietary modifications can correct constipation. Daily use of 500 mg vitamin C and 400 mg magnesium can prevent constipation.
What is infant constipation? - Constipation is a very common and frustrating problem in children. Constipation is most commonly caused by a diet that is low in fiber.
What causes baby constipation? - Constipation in children usually is due to poor bowel habits. Bottlefed babies suffer from constipation because formula milk is harder for a baby to digest.
What're the treatments for child constipation? - Constipation is best treated by making changes in your child's diet. The goal of treatment is for your child to have one to two soft stools each day.
Constipation during pregnancy - Pregnant women may experience constipation, which can be very uncomfortable. Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy.