Stopped Up

Trouble with passing solid waste, or constipation, is not usually a disease in itself, but it can be a symptom of a number of conditions. It’s rarer than its opposite number, diarrhea, because the body, when infected or intoxicated, attempts to deal with the infection or toxin by getting rid of it as fast as possible. However, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and other metabolic conditions, multiple sclerosis, spinal chord injuries, and conditions called systemic diseases that affect a group of organs can all cause things to stop happening. In addition, laxative use can cause the user to develop a tolerance, to the point where doing anything without laxative is impossible.

Lifestyle factors can also be part of chronic constipation. "Chronic" means three or fewer times going per week over a period of several weeks or more. The most common cause is called "primary constipation," lasting at least six months with no clear cause and no abdominal pain. Often, there is a dietary component to the condition, such as not enough fiber or water. In these cases, the solution is to eat more fiber or drink more fluids, as needed. Cancer can be responsible in some instances, when a tumor blocks the passages or puts pressure on them.

In other cases, cancer medications can lead to the problem. Chemotherapy often as a blocking effect. Painkillers are another common culprit. Over-the-counter painkillers are usually safe for bowel function, but stronger prescription medications often contain opiates. These are effective on pain, but opioid drugs have a direct effect on the digestive system, causing more water to be absorbed from food by the intestines. This leads to difficulties getting rid of solid waste. In addition, medications called antispasmodics, which are given to reduce nausea and prevent vomiting, work by tamping town the actions of the digestive muscles, and can have the same effect in the intestines.

The best treatment is dietary. Anything to get more water and fiber, resulting in softer solid waste, will help it waste move through the intestines properly. Milk of magnesia helps get water absorbed by the intestines back into waste, and is the first-line treatment for constipation. Stimulant laxatives, which can cause tolerance, are not recommended. In severe cases, manual disimpaction is needed.

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