Why You Shouldn't Ignore Constipation
When it comes to digestive health, the condition you're most likely to suffer from is constipation. In constipation, infrequent bowel movements cause hard stools that are difficult to pass. You're most likely to struggle with irregular bowel movements if you are an older adult or pregnant, but lifestyle factors, such as a low intake of fiber and fluid or limited activity, also slow bowel transit. Constipation isn't just uncomfortable though, as infrequent bowel movements can signal a medical problem. Here are three reasons to visit your doctor if you suffer from chronic constipation.
A symptom of cancer
Cancers in the colon and rectum can present as constipation. However, it is unusual for irregular bowel movements to be the only symptom of colorectal cancer. Constipation as a cancer symptom is usually seen alongside abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, poor appetite, unintentional weight loss and fatigue. Spotting this collection of possible cancer symptoms early and reporting these signs to your doctor allow them to rule out cancer as a cause of constipation. If you do receive a diagnosis of colorectal cancer though, early treatment increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.
A hormone-related problem
An underactive thyroid, where your thyroid gland produces insufficient hormones, produces numerous symptoms, one of which is constipation. Other signs associated with the slowing of your metabolism include tiredness, weight gain, dry skin and hair, and feeling the cold. It is simple to resolve the symptoms of hypothyroidism through medication, so if you have additional symptoms of an underactive thyroid, make an appointment with your medical practitioner.
If you have poor blood sugar control, you may experience damage to the nerves that control your digestive tract, which can present as constipation, diarrhea, nausea and heartburn. Known as autonomic neuropathy, this type of nerve damage is usually seen in more advanced cases of diabetes, arising from late diagnosis of diabetes or poor compliance with blood glucose control. Input from your doctor, diabetes nurse and dietician can help you achieve better glycemic control and preserve nerve function. Signs of poor blood sugar control include increased thirst, urination and tiredness, recurrent thrush, poor wound healing, weight loss and blurred vision, so these symptoms should always be reported to your physician.
A sign of neurological disease
Constipation is sometimes a symptom of Parkinson's disease, where damage to the brain cells that produce the chemical dopamine affects your muscle function. While tremors, slowed movement and muscle stiffness are common signs of Parkinson's disease, the muscles of your digestive system can also be affected, making them operate slower, which causes constipation. Although medications to treat Parkinson's disease ease symptoms, constipation is a possible side effect of certain drugs to manage this neurological condition.
Infrequent bowel movements are also seen in multiple sclerosis. Constipation may occur as a symptom of multiple sclerosis, as the disease disrupts nerve signals to empty your bowels, stops your pelvic floor muscles relaxing and interferes with your natural urge to visit the bathroom after eating. If you experience altered bowel habits alongside tingling, numbness, poor balance, limb weakness or blurred vision, you should seek medical advice, as this combination of symptoms may suggest multiple sclerosis.
Although changes to dietary intake and exercise habits can help to ease constipation, persistent problems with your bowels require a medical assessment to rule out a more serious cause. Therefore, always book an appointment with your doctor to investigate constipation, particularly if it occurs alongside other new symptoms.
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