Chronic constipation (CC) is a cluster of symptoms which can vary from person to person. Common symptoms of constipation are:
- reduced number of bowel movements (BMs) (Less than three BMs per week is considered low. However, people have different ranges of what is normal.)
- passage of hard or pellet-like BMs
- having to strain or excessively push to start or complete a BM
- the patient’s feeling as though they did not empty completely after a BM
- a sensation that the necessary muscles will not relax enough to allow stool to be passed
- needing to change positions on the toilet, push around the groin, or manually pick BMs out of the rectum
Abdominal symptoms are also common in individuals with constipation. These symptoms include:
- abdominal pain – pain varying from dull to sharp that occurs in the belly area
- abdominal discomfort – discomfort varying from dull to sharp that occurs in the belly area
- bloating – a buildup of gas or swollen feeling in the stomach or intestines
- distention – an uncomfortable swelling in the intestines that causes the abdominal area to visibly expand
- nausea – often including an urge to vomit
Functional constipation in children
Diarrhea as a symptom
While it may seem odd, diarrhea can also be a symptom of constipation. Overflow diarrhea occurs when someone has diarrhea caused by constipation. This occurs when a person has an impacted bowel movement (BM). This causes such severe constipation that BMs become liquid and are passed as loose BMs around the impaction. However, there may still be straining and the feeling of not completely passing a BM. If this is the case, discuss this with your healthcare provider.
What’s the Difference Between Constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal (GI) condition that causes recurrent attacks of abdominal pain or discomfort in association with bowel habits. This condition affects up to 5-10% of individuals worldwide and it can affect children and adults of both genders.
People with IBS may have symptoms that overlap with functional constipation. However, persons with functional constipation may not have the abdominal pain of IBS. Also, they would not have intervals of normal bowel habit and diarrhea with loose stools that can occur in IBS.
For more information about IBS, visit IFFGD’s web site at www.aboutIBS.org.
Seeing a Healthcare Provider
Given the various symptoms associated with CC, it can be helpful to keep a bowel movement diary prior to your visit with a healthcare provider. Recording how often you are having bowel movements, their texture, and other associated symptoms can be beneficial for making an accurate diagnosis and deciding on further diagnostic and treatment plans. See the section on Consulting Your Healthcare Provider About Constipation below.
What to learn more? Start with these publications from IFFGD:
and discover much more in our publications library.
Adapted from IFFGD Publication: Constipation Overview by Darren Brenner , M.D., AGAF, FACG, Associate Professor andDirector of the Neurogastromotility Program, Division of Gastroenterology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL