How to Know When Constipation Is an Emergency
What causes constipation, and is it ever an emergency? How long is too long to be constipated? Learn the lowdown on this common condition and the 3 best ways to prevent it.
Bloated bellies don’t lie. It’s been a few days since your last bowel movement — and things are starting to feel … well, backed up.
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It’s normal to be constipated every once in a while, but when is constipation sounding the alarm for a bigger problem? Colorectal surgeon Massarat Zutshi, MD, gives us the 411 on No. 2.
A: Constipation happens when your bowel movements occur less often or cause more strain than usual. Dr. Zutshi says there are three kinds of constipation:
Normal transit and slow transit constipation are both considered motility disturbances. And to understand motility, look no further than the morning commute.
Motility is how well the roads — or in this case, the muscles in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract — are moving.
And just like there are many causes for snarled roadways, there are different reasons your inner streets are backing up, such as a lack of:
You have less control over these other constipation causes:
A: While the nursery school book “Everyone Poops” still rings true, how often they do so is another story.
“There’s no real normal. Men are different from women. Age changes things. Pregnancy changes things,” adds Dr. Zutshi. “As long as you have a bowel movement that occurs regularly — not too few in a week — and has a regular consistency, you’re fine.”
But what’s “not too few,” you ask? “Constipation is defined as less than three in a week.” Uh-oh. So now what?
A: Dr. Zutshi explains: It depends if you’re regularly regular or not.
“People who have constipation frequently know what to do when it strikes. They’ll try home remedies during the two or three weeks they don’t have a bowel movement. And then if nothing works, they see a doctor,” says Dr. Zutshi.
But if you’re someone who doesn’t usually experience constipation, see a doctor sooner. Dr. Zutshi recommends making an appointment if constipation lasts longer than a week.
A: It can be, but most often is not.
“It would be an emergency if you hadn’t had a bowel movement for a prolonged time, and you’re also experiencing major bloating or severe abdominal pain,” notes Dr. Zutshi.
Slight symptoms will not take you to the emergency room. You should go to the emergency room if your symptoms are severe.
Other warning signs to watch for are:
A: Dr. Zutshi emphasizes the big three: Water first. Fiber next. Exercise third.
If you think you’re having issues with constipation, Dr. Zutshi advises you to be proactive.
“See a gastroenterologist to figure out if everything is OK. And if you have not had a colonoscopy, and you’re over 50, it’s time to schedule one.”