Constipation affects more than three-quarters of the U.S. population. Women and seniors are more prone to this uncomfortable and sometimes painful condition.
While occasional constipation may not be serious, there are certain signs you should never ignore when it comes to chronic constipation. The following signs merit immediate attention:
- Blood in stool
- Extreme pain, bloating or swelling
- Inability to move the bowels despite adequate time and effort. Or an inability to pass gas/mucus from the rectum
These can all be signs of fecal impaction or another medical condition that require immediate attention and treatment to avoid further complications and discomfort.
The most common cause of constipation is inadequate intake of water. Other causes may include a lack of physical activity, changes in diet, and poor dietary habits.
In addition to a poor diet, other lifestyle factors can increase the risk of constipation. Some common ones include age, pregnancy, and underlying health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If any symptom given above persists for more than two weeks with no relief, it is recommended to consult a doctor forthwith.
An occasional episode can be ignored but frequent irregular bowel movements can be an indication of an underlying medical condition. If changes like hard stools, infrequent stools, or a complete stoppage is observed over a period of time, it is recommended to talk to your doctor.
A more serious problem which should merit immediate attention is blood in your stool and not just hemorrhoids. Such tell-tale signs should be addressed by consulting a doctor immediately.
1) Blood in stool
Fecal blood is often a sign that you’ve got hemorrhoids or other rectal issues. If you’re pooping blood, head to your doctor to get it checked as soon as possible.
Fecal blood can also indicate serious digestive problems like colorectal cancer and Crohn’s disease. If you see any red in your stool, schedule an appointment with your doctor. It could entail saving your life.
Less commonly, blood in the stool may be caused by eating certain foods (like beets), IBS, swallowing air when eating, or drinking too much alcohol. Rectal bleeding isn’t always serious, but if you notice blood every time you have a bowel movement—or if your stools are tarry black—never ignore it.
Call your doctor for advice immediately so he or she can figure out what’s going on before something more serious develops. Never attempt to self-diagnose a medical issue! Talk to a professional about any health issue no matter how minor it seems initially.
Dark brown, stools could be a sign of inadequate water intake. Likewise, if the stools are orange or red, it could be a sign of eating too many iron-rich foods like broccoli and spinach. But stool color can also indicate constipation. If stools are pale in color, it may indicate inadequate fat in the diet.
Also known as steatorrhea, yellowish stools are indicative of excessive fat in the r system. Along with soft stools and oily spotting (discussed below), diarrhea or loose stools are the common symptoms of steatorrhea.
2) Pain while defecating
This indicates constipation and a possible remedy is adding some fiber to the diet. The National Institutes of Health recommends 20-35 grams of fiber daily, and most of us fall well short.
There are many types of fiber, but insoluble fiber is recommended which adds bulk thus making it easier to pass stools. If you’re unsure about how much insoluble fiber you need, ask your doctor or a nutritionist.
3) Abdominal cramps
One common sign of constipation is abdominal cramps. These might feel like mild period cramps, little indigestion, or an uncomfortable feeling of bloating. Abdominal cramps may indicate that stools are traveling at a slower pace and are not passing through the colon as quickly as they should.
When stools build up in the colon for too long they might lead to cramps. However, they are not always a sign that something is seriously wrong (though sometimes it could be). But regular episodes of cramps or severe pain could be an indicator to consult a doctor and explore other options to relieve constipation.
4) Fever and vomiting
Fever and vomiting are rare symptoms of constipation. A fever indicates that the body is fighting an infection. If you have symptoms of vomiting and constipation, it’s a good idea to call your doctor and seek medical attention in case symptoms persist for more than a day or two.
The most common reasons for both fever and vomiting are dehydration—especially if you’re also experiencing diarrhoea. Dehydration can lead to more severe complications, such as seizures or fainting. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids when having bouts of diarrhoea or constipation.
5) Yellowish stool color
This can be an indication that bile is not being released properly. Bile helps flush toxins out of the body, and when it’s slowed down or blocked altogether, one can get sick. If stools are pale in color the underlying causes need to be ascertained immediately by consulting a doctor.
Pale stools also indicate that the intestines aren’t absorbing enough nutrients from the food. As a result, there are no pigments left in the stools to give them its normal brownish color.
However, red blood should never be present with pale stools; if it is, talk to a medical professional right away since it could be indicative of the onset of a more serious problem like internal bleeding or cancer.
6) Persistent nausea
If you’re visiting the toilet for long periods you might experience nausea as the body isn’t used to being in that position and as a result the gastrointestinal tract can rebel against you.
The solution is simple—see a doctor. Get diagnosed and treated for constipation (like with over-the-counter laxatives). Depending on symptoms, diet may also play a role.
If you’re eating fiber-rich foods, diarrhoea may be to blame instead. Even though loose stools feel like normal bowel movements after holding your poop in for so long, neither one is ideal for proper digestion or elimination.