Although you may struggle to talk about constipation, the reality is that this condition is common, affecting up to 33% of adults over the age of 60. Although older adults are more at risk for developing constipation, it can affect anyone regardless of age.
Sometimes constipation remedies itself with a few changes to diet or water intake, but if constipation is prolonged, your risk of developing complications, like hemorrhoids, increases. Chronic constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week, passing hard stools, or difficulty and pain when passing stools.
In this article, Eric Ibegbu, MD, and our team at Atlantic Medical Group highlight the three of the complications of chronic constipation and how we treat this condition.
1. Hemorrhoids and anal fissures
Hemorrhoids and anal fissures are two complications of chronic constipation. Hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins, can develop in the rectum or anus. Although they aren’t life-threatening, both external and internal hemorrhoids can lead to pain and discomfort.
Internal hemorrhoids may cause bloody stools, while external hemorrhoids may contribute to rectal itchiness as well as pain when having a bowel movement.
Like hemorrhoids, anal fissures can also cause itching and blood on the toilet paper. Anal fissures are small tears in the anal canal caused by hard stool.
2. Rectal prolapse
Prolapses happen when any body part slips out of its proper position, and in the case of a rectal prolapse, the rectum slides beyond the anus.
Signs of rectal prolapse include:
- Visible rectal tissue protruding outside of your anus
- Leaking of stool or mucous
- Weakened rectal muscles
- Changes in bowel habits
Constipation and constant straining contribute to rectal prolapse.
3. Fecal impaction
One of the more serious complications of chronic constipation is fecal impaction. About 49% of people diagnosed with fecal impaction have it because of chronic constipation. This condition develops when the stool becomes so hard that it can’t pass with a normal bowel movement.
Symptoms of fecal impaction include:
- Pain and cramping
- Abdominal distension
- Loss of appetite
- Lower back pain
Left untreated, fecal impaction can cause potentially life-threatening conditions, including peritonitis, bowel ulceration, bowel perforation, and thrombosed hemorrhoids (a blood clot in a rectal blood vessel). We can treat fecal impaction with medication and enemas.
Finding relief from chronic constipation
Once you realize you’re constipated, it’s important to implement a few strategies to support your digestive health. At-home treatments for constipation include:
- Exercising regularly
- Drinking plenty of water (dehydration can trigger constipation)
- Eating a high-fiber diet
- Avoiding foods that aggravate your symptoms
- Identifying your body’s cues to use the bathroom and trying to follow your body’s patterns
- Refraining from holding your stools for prolonged hours
In some cases, at-home treatments aren’t enough, especially if your constipation is linked to an underlying medical condition.
If your bowel habits don’t improve by drinking more water, staying active, and eating plenty of fiber, it’s time to consider medical intervention.
Here at Atlantic Medical Group, Dr. Ibegbu first pinpoints the cause of your constipation. Potential treatments vary depending on the cause of your constipation but may include:
- Medications to address hormonal or nerve conditions that contribute to constipation
- Surgery to remove blockages
- Supplements to support your gastrointestinal health
In addition to treating chronic constipation, Dr. Ibegbu also treats any complications of constipation 一 hemorrhoids, fissures, and prolapse 一 that may develop as a result of constipation.
We know that it’s not always easy to talk about constipation, but we’re just a call or click away. Reach our compassionate and nonjudgmental team by calling us or by scheduling an appointment at our Kinston or Jacksonville, North Carolina, location.