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Symptoms and Signs of Constipation (Adults)

Doctor's Notes on Constipation in Adults

Constipation is passing less stool (feces) than normal. It is usually defined medically as having fewer than three stools per week. Severe constipation occurs when an individual has less than one stool (bowel movement) per week. There are a number of causes of constipation. These include dietary factors, certain medications, overuse of stimulant laxatives, and some hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism.

Symptoms and signs if constipation, in addition to having a reduced number of bowel movements, can include straining with defecation, hard or small stools, lower abdominal discomfort, bloating, abdominal distension, anal bleeding, anal fissures, and a sense of incompletely emptying the bowels. Other symptoms that are less common can include diarrhea due to obstruction of the colon by hard or impacted stool.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Constipation in Adults Symptoms

An individual may exhibit a broad range of symptoms of constipation depending on his or her bowel habits, diet, and age. These are some common problems a person may have if he or she is constipated:

  • Difficulty in starting or completing a bowel movement
  • Infrequent and difficult passage of stool
  • Passing hard stool after prolonged straining
  • If the person has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with
  • If the person has an intestinal obstruction, which results in
  • Distended abdomen

Constipation in Adults Causes

Constipation may result from several causes including a poor diet, poor bowel habits, or problems in elimination of stool, whether physical, functional, or voluntary.

The following are some of the most common causes of constipation.

Many medications can cause constipation.

Laxative abuse

Habitually using laxatives will gradually produce dependency on these drugs.

  • The person may eventually require increasing amounts of laxatives to move the bowels.
  • In some instances, the bowel will become insensitive to laxatives and the person will not be able to move the bowels even with laxatives.

Connective tissue diseases: Conditions such as scleroderma and lupus

Poor-functioning of the thyroid gland: Reduced production of thyroxin, a hormone produced by the thyroid gland, can lead to hypothyroidism, and therefore can cause constipation.

Lead poisoning and other metabolic disorders

Age: Older adults are more likely to have constipation for the following reasons:

  • Poor diet and insufficient intake of fluids
  • Lack of exercise
  • Side effects of prescription drugs used to treat other conditions
  • Poor bowel habits
  • Prolonged bed rest, for example after an accident or during an illness
  • Habitual use of enemas and laxatives

It should be noted that although that this is a long list of possibly worrisome causes of constipation, most chronic constipation is simply from inadequate intake of dietary fiber and water, and can be managed by substantially increasing the intake of both.

Connective tissue diseases: Conditions such as scleroderma and lupus

Poor-functioning of the thyroid gland: Reduced production of thyroxin, a hormone produced by the thyroid gland, can lead to hypothyroidism, and therefore can cause constipation.

Lead poisoning and other metabolic disorders

Age: Older adults are more likely to have constipation for the following reasons:

  • Poor diet and insufficient intake of fluids
  • Lack of exercise
  • Side effects of prescription drugs used to treat other conditions
  • Poor bowel habits
  • Prolonged bed rest, for example after an accident or during an illness
  • Habitual use of enemas and laxatives

It should be noted that although that this is a long list of possibly worrisome causes of constipation, most chronic constipation is simply from inadequate intake of dietary fiber and water, and can be managed by substantially increasing the intake of both.

Super Tips to Boost Digestive Health Bloating, Constipation, and More Slideshow

Super Tips to Boost Digestive Health Bloating, Constipation, and More Slideshow

To get the 20-35 grams of fiber your body needs each day, choose plant foods like cherries, grapes, crunchy bell peppers, beans, whole grains, and nuts. These help with digestion and constipation and are also good for your heart and blood sugar. Because they fill you up, you’ll eat less, which also helps if you are watching your weight.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.