While a bout of constipation now and then might seem like a minor inconvenience, persistent constipation can lead to a cascade of health problems.
Board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Prem Chattoo and his team at Hudson River Gastroenterology offer these guidelines regarding the causes and dangers of chronic constipation and when to seek medical care.
The basics of chronic constipation
Symptoms of constipation include:
- Hard, dry, or lumpy stools
- Experiencing less than three bowel movements per week
- Pain when passing stool
- Straining to pass stool
- The sensation that not all stool has evacuated
- Feeling like the rectum is blocked
When you have two or more of these symptoms for three months or longer, you’re experiencing chronic constipation.
What are the dangers of chronic constipation?
The potential health complications related to chronic constipation include:
One of the immediate dangers of chronic constipation is the discomfort it brings to the digestive system. As stools linger in the colon for an extended period, they become harder and drier, making bowel movements more painful and difficult.
This discomfort often leads to a cycle of avoidance, where individuals may resist the urge to have a bowel movement, exacerbating the problem.
Hemorrhoids and anal fissures
The straining associated with chronic constipation can result in hemorrhoids and anal fissures. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the rectum and anus. Anal fissures are small tears in the membranous tissue lining of the anus. Both conditions can cause pain, bleeding, and further complications if left untreated.
Chronic constipation can lead to a more severe condition known as bowel obstruction. This occurs when a blockage prevents the normal movement of stool through the intestines.
Symptoms may include severe abdominal pain, bloating, and vomiting. Bowel obstruction requires immediate medical attention and can be life-threatening if not addressed promptly.
Impaired nutrient absorption
When waste materials accumulate in the colon, they can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients from food. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies, affecting overall health. Over time, impaired nutrient absorption may contribute to fatigue, weakness, and a compromised immune system.
When should I see a doctor for constipation?
Our team recommends scheduling a visit with Dr. Chattoo at Hudson Valley Gastroenterology whenever you’re concerned about your digestive health.
Otherwise, schedule a visit for constipation if you:
- Have symptoms longer than three weeks
- Find it challenging to accomplish your daily routine because of constipation
- Develop rectal bleeding
- Notice changes in the shape or color of your stools
- Have persistent stomach pain
- Experience unexplained weight loss
Effective treatment for chronic constipation starts with diagnosing the underlying cause, which can range from dietary issues to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome to weak pelvic floor muscles.
Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Chattoo today by calling the office or requesting an appointment online.