What Could My Persistent Constipation Be Telling Me?
Occasional constipation is a common condition that occurs to almost everyone. Constipation can come in either infrequent bowel movements or experiencing difficulty in passing stools. Typically, the most common causes of constipation are poor hydration and inadequate fiber intake.
Although it’s normal to be constipated occasionally, some people may experience persistent or chronic constipation that lasts for several weeks (or longer) and even interfere with their day-to-day activities. If you’ve been experiencing persistent constipation that does not go away with simple home remedies like water and fruit juices, it’s best to look at some of the possible reasons behind your condition.
1. It’s a symptom of IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a chronic disorder that affects a patient’s digestive system. This disorder causes various symptoms, such as constipation, bloating, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. While it’s not yet well understood what causes IBS, some possible risk factors include disturbance in the interaction between the gut and brain, strong or weak muscle contractions in the intestines, stress or after an episode of severe infection caused by viruses or bacteria in the gut.
IBS can affect people of all ages, but it’s more commonly experienced among patients below the age of 50. There’s no available test to diagnose IBS definitely. However, your doctor can assess your symptoms to develop a treatment plan that fits your condition.
2. It signals an underlying illness
Constipation, especially a persistent or chronic one, could also be a symptom of a more serious condition. Some of the major illnesses that can cause chronic constipation are hypothyroidism, diabetes, and colon cancer. Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn’t produce and release enough thyroid hormone into your bloodstream. This slows down your metabolism and rate of digestion, hence leading to constipation.
Similarly, diabetes is also a hormonal problem that arises when your body stops producing adequate amounts of the hormone insulin. This impairs your body’s ability to break down sugar in your blood. In turn, uncontrolled and high blood sugar levels can damage the nerves that control your digestion, thus causing a range of bowel symptoms like diarrhoea and constipation.
Diarrhoea and constipation are also common symptoms of colon cancer. Colon cancer is one of the top causes of cancer in Singapore. When it is still early and localised to the bowel, colon cancer can be highly treatable and even curable. If suspected of colon cancer, it’s best to seek a professional as soon as possible. Upon sharing the condition, your doctor will walk you through the various colon cancer treatments costs and options to prevent the cancer from developing.
3. It is a side-effect of pregnancy
Constipation can also occur frequently during pregnancy. Studies have shown that at least 2 in 5 women experience constipation while they’re pregnant. During pregnancy, there is an increased production of the hormone progesterone on the mother’s body, making it harder for the intestinal muscles to contract. As a result, food remains in your digestive tract longer than it should. If you’re pregnant and constantly constipated, make sure to ask your doctor about the safe ways to treat your constipation without harming your baby.
4. It is a possible result from anxiety
Aside from physical illnesses, some believe that constipation can result from mental health conditions. Anxiety and other mental conditions can take a toll on your digestive process. The patient then experiences a variety of symptoms, such as abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and constipation.
When you’re anxious, your body can go into a ‘flight or fight’ mode and activate your sympathetic nervous system. This puts your digestion on hold and can make you feel constipated. When you’re feeling down, there is also a tendency to prefer to stay indoors and rest. The decrease in physical activity slows down your digestion and could lead you to experience constipation.
5. You have a poor lifestyle and diet
Inactive lifestyle and poor diet are considered the most common causes of chronic constipation. When you’re not moving enough or consuming adequate amounts of high-fibre foods, you have a high risk of becoming constipated. Reason being, a lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet often lead to digestive problems. To avoid constipation, exercise daily and eat more fruits and vegetables that are rich in fibre.
Knowing what causes your chronic constipation is a necessary step towards finding an effective treatment for it. If your constipation has been persistent for weeks, and you experience a range of other symptoms like abdominal pain, it’s best to seek medical help immediately. Early diagnosis is key to preventing the development of severe health conditions like diabetes and colon cancer.