Signs and symptoms of constipation
When you are constipated, you have to strain to defecate and you typically pass small, hard stools. You may also have a feeling that your rectum has not been completely emptied.Other signs and symptoms of constipation may include:
- Abdominal discomfort or pain
- A sense that something is blocked in your rectum
- Excessive straining during bowel movements
- Lower frequency of bowel movements (compared to your normal)
- Change in type of stool.
Most people don’t need extensive testing to identify constipation: you know it when you have it. Still, understanding what’s normal can help you identify constipation earlier and explain it to your doctor.
The Bristol Stool Chart
(shown below) classifies human feces into 7 categories based on shape and consistency.
- Types 1 and 2 occur with constipation
- Types 3 and 4 are considered normal./p>
- Types 5 to 7 occur with diarrhea./p>
|Type 1||Separate hard lumps,
like nuts (hard to pass)
|Type 2||Sausage-shaped but
|Type 3||Like sausage but with
cracks on its surface
|Type 4||Like a sausage or
snake, smooth and
|Type 5||Soft blobs with clearcut
|Type 6||Fluffy pieces with
ragged edges, a
|Type 7||Water, no solid pieces.
When it comes to frequency of bowel movements, it’s a little harder to draw the line between what’s healthy and what’s not because every individual has a different pattern of bowel movements: some people have bowel movements three or more times a day, while others only defecate a few times per week. Both patterns can still be normal.
Alarm symptoms of constipation
Alarm symptoms are not typical constipation symptoms and may signal other, possibly more serious health issues. Consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Rectal bleeding with or without dark red blood mixed in with the stool
- Unintended weight loss
- Fever (check your temperature to see if it is over 36.5°C)
- Persistent diarrhea
- Anemia, especially iron-deficiency anemia
- Abdominal pain that is not relieved by a bowel movement or that wakes you up at night.
As a rough guideline, you probably have a chronic (long-term) constipation problem if you’ve experienced 2 or more of the following symptoms for at least 3 months:
- Straining during more than 1 out of 4 bowel movements
- Hard stools more than 25% of the time
- Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time
- Fewer than 3 bowel movements in a week
If you have constipation for more than 2 weeks, be sure to see a doctor to find out why you have developed this problem and how you can treat it.
At the start, your doctor will generally ask you about your eating and drinking habits, your stress levels, your medications and any symptoms that may suggest that your constipation has a specific, treatable cause. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also perform a blood test to find out if you have anemia.
Colon cancer is an important but uncommon cause of constipation. If you are over 50 years of age, have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had colon cancer or if you’ve had a positive stool test in a provincial colorectal cancer screening program, you will be offered a colonoscopy.