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Constipation in Adults (cont.)

When should I seek medical care for constipation?

Call your health care professional if you have these concerns:

  • Symptoms are severe and last longer than three weeks
  • Recent and significant change in bowel habits, for instance, if constipation alternates with diarrhea
  • Severe pain in the anus during a bowel movement
  • Symptoms of other diseases in addition to constipation (for example, tiredness, fatigue, poor tolerance to cold weather may suggest the need to assess thyroid function for hypothyroidism, an underactive gland.)
  • Constipation for two weeks or longer with abdominal pain, which might be a sign of lead poisoning

When to seek emergency medical care

Although constipation may be extremely uncomfortable, it is usually not serious. However, it may signal a serious underlying disorder such as cancer of the bowel. Because constipation may lead to complications, go to a hospital's emergency department for any of the following reasons:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Anal pain and hemorrhoids
  • Anal fissures or cracks in the mucous lining (severe pain during defecation in the anal area)
  • Fecal impaction (immovable intestinal contents) in very young children and in older adults
  • Rectal prolapse or sagging (occasionally, straining causes a small amount of the intestinal lining to push out from the rectal opening. This may lead to secretion of mucus that may stain the undergarments.)
  • Recurrent vomiting with constipation and abdominal pain (This may suggest intestinal obstruction and needs urgent hospital treatment.)
  • Severe abdominal pain with constipation that is constant and worsening, especially if it is accompanied with a fever.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/7/2014

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