(Hard Stools · Difficulty Passing Stool)
In this condition factsheet:
If constipation is a problem, see your doctor. A physical exam will show whether there are hard stools in your intestine or any unusual masses in your stomach. This will include a digital rectal exam to check muscle tone.
Your doctor might do a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. This involves using a lighted tube with a camera on the end to look into part or all of the large intestine. A barium enema allows abnormalities of the large intestine to be seen on an X-ray. These procedures require some preparation to empty the bowel so that it can be seen on X-ray.
Treating and Preventing Constipation
Constipation can be treated medically, but lifestyle changes are often very important. The following practices can both treat and prevent constipation:
- Avoid medications with constipating effects.
- Do physical exercise to stimulate the movement of waste through your intestines.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of fluid each day - water is best.
- Eat a diet that's high in bulk and low in processed foods.
- Increase dietary fibre to about 25 g per day for women and 38 g per day for men by eating whole grains, especially flaxseed, fruits, and vegetables (these add bulk to stools, making them easier to pass).
- Schedule regular times for bowel movements to condition your body (after breakfast, for instance).
- Use prune juice, stewed prunes, or figs to soften hard stools (increase the amount slowly to reduce gas).
Medications are usually brought in if changing diet and habits don't work. Most laxatives should be used sparingly as needed.
- Bulk-forming laxatives add bulk to the stool, stimulating defecation.
- Others act by coating the feces with oil, preventing water from being absorbed by the intestine.
- Some laxatives are irritants or stimulants that cause the lining of the intestine to contract, helping to push out the stool.
- Some laxatives work by pulling water back into the colon to ease transit.
Enemas and stool softeners can be used to increase the amount of water in your stool, causing it to become soft. This is useful if you can't or shouldn't be straining. This happens if you have anal fissures or rectal prolapse.
Medications can also create dependence, so use them only as directed by your health care professional.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.References