Constipation is a common digestive issue that occurs when waste or stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract or cannot be removed effectively from the rectum, resulting in hardened and dry stools. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including medications, irritable bowel syndrome, and underlying medical conditions. In some cases, long-term use of laxatives may be a reasonable solution. It is important to get a checkup if constipation persists for more than three weeks.
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause constipation as a side effect. These include aluminum-containing antacids, antispasmodics, antidepressants, tranquilizers and sedatives, bismuth salts, iron supplements, diuretics, anticholinergics, calcium channel blockers, and anticonvulsants. People with irritable bowel syndrome may experience slow bowel movements, straining during bowel movements, abdominal discomfort, cramps, gas, and bloating. Laxatives are sometimes used inappropriately in people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
However, for those with long-term constipation, long-term use of laxatives may be a reasonable solution. In the past, long-term use of some laxatives was thought to damage nerve cells in the colon and interfere with the colon's natural ability to contract. However, newer laxative formulations have made this outcome rare. Diseases that can cause constipation include neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, strokes or multiple sclerosis; metabolic and endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, diabetes or chronic kidney disease; bowel cancer; and diverticulitis.
Pregnancy can also cause constipation due to hormonal changes or because the enlarged uterus puts pressure on the intestine. Intestinal obstructions caused by scar tissue (adhesions) from previous surgery or by stenosis of the colon or rectum can compress or narrow the intestine and rectum and cause constipation.