Chronic Constipation 

Chronic constipation is characterized by consistently having fewer than three bowel movements per week.  Chronic constipation occurs when someone consistently has fewer than three bowel movements in a week. This condition is fairly common. In fact, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, approximately 16% of U.S. adults have symptoms of constipation. 

Causes of Chronic Constipation 

Chronic constipation has a number of potential causes, including: 

  • Not eating enough fiber 
  • Eating too much dairy 
  • Dehydration 
  • Stress 
  • Taking certain medications 
  • Not exercising enough 
  • Being pregnant 
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS) and many others 

Although constipation can occur at any age, women (particularly those who are pregnant or recently gave birth) and older individuals have a greater chance of developing this condition. 

Symptoms of Chronic Constipation 

In addition to having fewer than three bowel movements per week, someone with chronic constipation may experience: 

  • Pain during bowel movements 
  • Difficulty passing stools 
  • Dry, hard or lumpy stools 
  • A feeling of not having completely emptied the bowels 
  • Stomachache 
  • Nausea 
  • Cramping 
  • Bloating 

If you think you may be chronically constipated, it’s important to promptly seek treatment, since failing to treat this condition could lead to complications such as: 

  • Anal fissures 
  • Diverticulitis 
  • Fecal impaction 
  • Hemorrhoids 
  • Stress urinary incontinence 

Diagnosing Chronic Constipation 

If you report a decrease in the frequency of your bowel movements, your doctor will likely begin by performing a physical examination (which will probably include a rectal exam). In addition, he or she will ask you various questions about your bowel movements, your lifestyle and your personal and family medical history. Your doctor may also order one or more of the following tests to diagnose the cause of your constipation: 

  • Stool test 
  • Blood test 
  • Urine test 
  • Imaging test, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a defecogram 
  • Colonoscopy 
  • Colorectal transit study 

Treatment for Chronic Constipation 

The gastroenterology specialists at Tampa General Hospital often treat chronic constipation using medication and lifestyle changes, such as eating more fiber, drinking more water and exercising more frequently. In rare cases, surgery may be needed to address a structural problem within the colon.