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Is Occasional Constipation Normal? Was written by: Simon Spichak, M.Sc, Aug 2022
It is one of those days again. You’ve felt a persistent abdominal pain the entire morning, and you head to the bathroom again. In between the pangs of pain and straining, you begin to get worried.
You take out your smartphone and start to search the symptoms of your predicament. Reading through some of the results on the front page, it is easy to get overwhelmed, confused, or worried. Is this occasional constipation normal?
According to a recent study published in Gastroenterology, more than one in four Canadians experience occasional constipation.Fortunately, it is also rare that symptoms of constipation are signs of serious conditions.
Constipation is the most frequent gastrointestinal complaint that patients bring up to their physician. It occurs when your stool becomes too dry or too hard to pass easily. It causes you to strain to defecate, and pass these small, hard stools. Even after you pass these stools, you might feel like your rectum hasn’t completely emptied.
Other signs and symptoms of constipation include:
How often do you poop? For many of us, our gastrointestinal tract follows a regular schedule of bowel movements. It could lead to as many as 3 bowel movements a day or as few as 3 bowel movements in a week. If this delicate schedule is disrupted, it can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms and constipation.
There are many factors that can contribute to gastrointestinal disruptions.
Dr. Sitash Rao, a gastroenterologist and researcher at Augusta University, told the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation that constipation can also occur with other life changes including new working schedule, stress, new medications, emotional problems and even the stress of a new job.
Almost one in three adults over the age of 60 experience occasional constipation. Constipation can also be a symptom of other age-related disorders that affect the nervous system or other parts of the body, including Parkinson’s disease and diabetes mellitus.
According to ROME IV criteria, functional constipation can be diagnosed if two or more of the following symptoms occur:
While constipation isn’t always a cause for concern, there are some cases according to Rao, where it might be time to speak with your physician:
There are many over-the-counter laxative pills and powders that you can take until the constipation is resolved. While laxatives are safe for treating constipation, some will have side effects depending on their mechanism of action.
Make sure to follow all the instructions on the labels, especially for powder-form laxatives that may need to be mixed with a glass of water or juice.
While occasional constipation may be painful, embarrassing, and uncomfortable, it is an common condition. It occurs when you experience changes in your daily routine. This includes starting a new diet, changes in your work schedule, insomnia, work stress or new medications.
While the most cases of constipation are not a sign of concern, there are some scenarios in which you may want to speak with a doctor. If treatments aren’t working after a few weeks or there are alarming symptoms accompanying your bowel movements, you should set up an appointment.
Fortunately, occasional constipation is easily treated with over-the-counter laxatives and fibres in addition to addressing the concerns that may have caused the constipation in the first place.
These products may not be right for you. Always read and follow the label.
Lax-A Day®, Lax-A Fibre® and Lax-A Senna® are registered trade marks owned by Norwell Consumer Healthcare Inc.
1. Palsson OS, Whitehead W, Törnblom H, Sperber AD, Simren M. Prevalence of rome IV functional bowel disorders among adults in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Gastroenterology. 2020;158(5). doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2019.12.021
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8. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, March 3). Over-the-counter laxatives for constipation: Use with caution. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/in-depth/laxatives/art-20045906
9. Government of Canada, H. C. (2016, April 13). Drug details – drug and health product register. Drug Details –Drug and Health Product Register. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://hpr-rps.hres.ca/details.php?drugproductid=580&query=calcium&wbdisable=true