When You Should See a Doctor About Constipation

You’re likely familiar with the symptoms of constipation. You feel blocked up, strain to pass stool, or have lumpy and hard stools — if you can even go at all.

Constipation can cause cramping and bloating, too, which seriously interferes with your quality of life. Constipation can occur when you change your diet or take certain medications, or it may result from aging. But when is constipation a medical issue?

At Hawaii Gastroenterology Specialists, our team of expert gastroenterologists is available if you have constipation that persists for weeks — or months — and seriously interferes with your comfort and daily life. Here’s what you need to know.

Defining constipation

There’s no textbook definition of constipation; it really depends on you. Some people naturally only have bowel movements a few times a week, while others have several in a day.

Suspect constipation if your normal pattern changes notably and is causing discomfort — if passing stool becomes a serious effort and you feel the need to push on your belly to help stool evacuate. Plus, if your schedule slows down a lot and you feel like you can’t empty your bowels, chances are you have constipation.

A few days of constipation is frustrating but generally isn’t cause to seek medical help. If the condition persists, however, it’s time to visit our office for an evaluation.

Constipation causes

Constipation isn’t a disease — it’s usually a symptom of something else going on in your digestive tract. You tend to have more bouts of constipation as you get older. You may also experience constipation if you tend to live a sedentary lifestyle and eat a diet low in fiber.

Constipation can also result from using too many laxatives, which causes your system to get lazy, or if you frequently hold back bowel movements. A stroke or diabetes can be responsible for your constipation, as can the use of certain antidepressants, narcotics, and iron supplements.

We evaluate your medical history and lifestyle habits to determine if there’s a relatively simple way to get relief. You may benefit from more exercise, which helps stimulate your digestive tract. We also recommend a diet revision to include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and possibly a fiber supplement. Stay hydrated so your stools become softer and easier to pass.

When to make an appointment

If constipation is chronic and interferes with your enjoyment of life, it’s a good idea to call our office. We can run screening tests to rule out any serious problems. This is especially true if you’ve tried lifestyle changes but still suffer.

If you have any of the following symptoms in addition to constipation, don’t wait to make an appointment:

Chronic constipation is a possible early sign of colon cancer or another serious condition. Your constipation may also lead to a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism, and undiagnosed diabetes. Treatment of these conditions often resolves chronic constipation.

Infrequent bowel movements and hard stool may signal an underlying condition, especially if changing your diet and exercise habits don’t help. Call the office of Hawaii Gastroenterology Specialists in either Aiea or Honolulu, or request a consultation with one of our experienced gastroenterologists using this website.

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