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Acute and Chronic Constipation


Dr. Mansfield
Constipation, which can be acute or chronic, is one of the most common gastrointestinal problems in the United States. Dr. Patel, what can you tell us about constipation?

Dr. Patel
Well, Dr. Mansfield, some people think that they are constipated if they don't have a bowel movement every day, but this isn't true. Bowel movement patterns vary between individuals, with normal, healthy patterns ranging from three times per day to three times per week.

Constipation means having fewer than three bowel movements per week and having bowel movements with stools that are difficult or painful to pass. It can be caused by hard stool, poor motility of the bowels, an obstruction or blockage in the bowels, or some dysfunction of pelvic muscles or organs.

Constipation is often accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Mild to severe abdominal pain that comes in waves
  • Nausea, and
  • Diaphoresis, or excessive, abnormal sweating

While acute constipation is very common and usually resolves with simple dietary changes, chronic constipation can lead to other health complications, including:

  • Hemorrhoids, which are swollen and inflamed veins around the anus and lower rectum
  • Anal fissures, which are small tears in the anus
  • Rectal prolapse, which happens when the rectum slips so that it sticks out of the anus, and
  • Fecal impaction, which happens when hard stool packs the intestine and rectum so tightly that the stool cannot be pushed out