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Constipation Overview

Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint – about 4 million Americans experience constipation and make 2.5 million physician visits a year to get help for the problem. 

Constipation can occur when the colon absorbs too much water, the colon’s muscle contraction is slow or sluggish, and/or there is delayed transit time through the colon. The result is stool that is hard and dry. 

Established guidelines for defining constipation are when a person has two or more of the following symptoms for at least 12 weeks (not necessarily consecutive) in the past 12 months: 

  • Straining during bowel movements that occurs more than 25% of the time 
  • Lumpy or hard stools in more than 25% of bowel movements 
  • Sensation of incomplete emptying in more than 25% of bowel movements  
  • Sensation of anorectal obstruction/blockade in more than 25% of bowel movements  
  • Manual maneuvers to help empty in more than 25% of bowel movements (examples include digital evacuation, support of the pelvic floor) 
  • Less than 3 bowel movements per week 
  • Loose stools are not present, and criteria for irritable bowel syndrome are insufficient  

Stay tuned for our next post that will address the common causes of constipation!

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