ConstipationTo understand constipation, you have to understand how the large intestine creates feces (stool). Food flows through the small intestine as a liquid mixture of digestive juices and the food you eat. By the time it reaches the large intestine, all the nutrients have been absorbed. The large intestine has one main function: to absorb water from the waste liquid, and turn it into a waste solid (stool).

Common Causes

Sometimes too much water is absorbed by the large intestine, leaving a very hard and dry stool that can't be passed without straining. That's constipation. Constipation itself is unpleasant enough, but when compounded by hemorrhoids created from straining, it can be miserable. Listed below are some common causes of constipation.

Laxative Abuse

Surprisingly, using certain laxatives also causes constipation. With continued use, your body becomes accustomed to the effects of the laxative, and if you stop taking it, the colon slows down and its contractions become very weak. This is called laxative dependency constipation, and it can be severe.

If you do the opposite of everything above, you should be fine. Keep one thing in mind, though: don't become obsessed with how often you have a bowel movement. The norm varies from twice daily to twice weekly. Constipation is defined by the difficulty of getting stools out, not by frequency of BMs.

Rules to prevent constipation

The preceding advice is mainly preventative, but it can be helpful in mild cases of existing constipation, too. If you stimulate the colon enough, contractions will help get the hardened stool out. Try prunes or other fruits, or even caffeine to stimulate contractions, as well as moderate exercise. But don't jog too far away from a bathroom!

If constipation is quite severe, or special circumstances (such as Hemorrhoids) make it important to control quickly, then consider these laxative groups:

Laxative Use In Children

If your child is having obviously hard, painful stools, laxatives can relieve the problem right away. But too often, laxatives are given to kids who feel fine just because their parents think they aren't having bowel movements often enough. Always base kid's treatment on how they're feeling with BMs - ask them:

If treatment is necessary, always use laxatives designed for children (see Recommended Products list).

Since infants can't tell you anything, you'll usually have to guess about their constipation. Crying and apparent straining with BMs, and of course hard stools, are good clues. Fortunately, there are some very safe products available for infants (see below), so if you're wrong and constipation isn't the problem, no harm will come to your baby because of the laxative. If problems persist more than 24 hours, contact your physician.

Sometimes constipation results in stools so hard they won't come out no matter what you try at home. This is called stool impaction. Don't delay any longer --- see your doctor immediately. If an impaction isn't removed, it can cause total bowel obstruction and require hospitalization.

Severe constipation and impaction sometimes occur in kids who hold their BMs on purpose. If you suspect this in your child based on frequent constipation or other clues, a medically supervised bowel program is very important. Withholding stool doesn't just cause bowel problems; nutritional deficiency, growth retardation, and psychological problems are all well-documented in children with this disorder. Don't try to cure this one by yourself.

Lastly, if your constipation continues despite good habits (see Basics section) and non-prescription treatment, get professional advice. There may be an underlying condition causing the problem --- thyroid disorders, diabetes, medication side-effects, or irritable bowel syndrome just to name a few. Don't keep suffering --- get it checked out!

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