Constipation
and Diarrhea

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Constipation & DiarrheaConstipation and Diarrhea

Constipation is when you have infrequent or hard-to-pass bowel movements (meaning they are painful or you have to strain), have hard stools or feel like your bowel movements are incomplete. Infrequent means less than three bowel movements a week.

Diarrhea is loose, watery stools or bowel movements. You have diarrhea if you have loose stools three or more times in one day. Acute diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts a short time, usually about one or two days, but it may last longer.

Constipation Causes

In most cases, constipation is a symptom, not a disease. Below is a list of some of the most common causes of constipation:

Poor diet

Not eating enough veggies, fruits and whole grains can make the stools hard and difficult to pass.

Changes in your diet, like when you travel, along with inactivity can also lead to constipation.

Medications

Many medications can cause constipation. Let your doctor know all of the medications you are on, or let your doctor know if you have had constipation in the past before starting a new medication. Some examples of medicine that can cause constipation are:

  • Pain medications (mainly narcotics).
  • Some antacids.
  • Antispasmodic drugs, which suppress muscle spasms.
  • Antidepressant drugs.
  • Tranquilizers.
  • Iron supplements.
  • Anticonvulsants, for epilepsy.
  • Anti–Parkinson’s disease drugs.
  • Calcium channel blockers, for high blood pressure and heart conditions.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Also known as IBS with constipation or IBS-C, this condition is one of the most common causes of constipation in the U.S. IBS-C is associated with more belly pain than some other causes of constipation.

Poor bowel habits

You can start a cycle of constipation by not going when you have the urge to move your bowels (like when you are too busy or don’t want to use a public toilet). After a while, you may stop feeling the need to go at all. This leads to constipation.

Pelvic floor dysfunction

When the muscles in the pelvic floor don’t relax as they should to allow easy passage of stool, it causes constipation and the feeling like you have to go, but nothing comes out. This is treated by biofeedback and retraining of these muscles through pelvic floor physical therapy.

Diarrhea Causes

A number of diseases and conditions can cause diarrhea, including:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria and parasites
  • Medications
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Fructose and artificial sweeteners
  • Surgery
  • Other digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, microscopic colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Constipation Treatment

Constipation can usually be treated medically. The definition of constipation can be based on family, culture and their own experience, so it can have different meanings. It is normal to have some constipation at times as a result of what you eat or other habits. If there is ongoing pain with bowel movements or there is blood in your stool, you should call your doctor.

Diarrhea Treatment

The number one concern in treating diarrhea is dehydration:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Don’t drink caffiene or alcohol

What are the different types of diarrhea?

Diarrhea is classified into three clinical types as explained below:

Acute diarrhea:

This is the most common type. Acute diarrhea is characterized by loose watery stool that lasts anywhere between several hours and two days. This type of diarrhea often requires no treatment, as it usually goes away after a few hours or a couple of days.

Persistent diarrhea:

Persistent diarrhea, as the name implies, typically persists for longer periods – two to four weeks.

Chronic diarrhea:

When you have diarrhea lasting more than four weeks or experience it regularly over an extended period, it is regarded as chronic diarrhea. It can be caused by Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), microscopic colitis, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Diagnosis for Diarrhea

During diagnosis, your doctor will ask you a number of questions to understand the situation. This includes your medical history, conducting a physical exam, conducting tests to determine what’s causing your diarrhea, and reviewing the medications you’ve been taking.

Possible tests that your doctor may order for diarrhea diagnosis are:

  • Blood test
  • Stool test
  • Hydrogen breath test
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy
  • Upper endoscopy

Diarrhea Treatment

Most cases of acute diarrhea clear on their own within a few days without any treatment or medication. There are also home remedies or lifestyle changes that you can to improve the symptoms of your diarrhea. If you have tried without success, your doctor can recommend other treatments or prescriptions after examining your condition.

Here are three major diarrhea treatments that are often effective.

Staying Hydrated

Because of the frequent loose and watery stools associated with diarrhea, your body can lose a lot of fluids and salts, making dehydration a major concern in diarrhea. To stay hydrated, you can take sports drinks or Pedialyte, drink only clear liquids, avoid caffeinated alcoholic, sugary drinks, milk, and other dairy products that can worsen the symptoms or worsen dehydration. You can also take clear broth and water for diarrhea treatment.

Eating a Bland Diet

A bland diet includes soft foods that are not very spicy, and are low in fiber. If you want to treat diarrhea, you want to avoid raw and spicy foods. Examples are bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, etc. You may consider trying clear liquids for the first few hours and then slowly add bland foods to your diet. It is also recommended to consult with your doctor for best results. You should, in fact, consult your doctor if your diarrhea persists for more than one week.

Over-the-Counter Medication

In most cases, your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter medication to help control your symptoms. Prescriptions have been shown to be effective in stopping bouts of diarrhea. These medications include Imodium, and Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, etc. Your doctor may prescribe Alosetron (Lotronex), which is mostly used for some women with serious IBS-D.

Other medications for diarrhea treatment include Eluxadoline to slow down gut contractions and ease your pain. Note that this is not ideal if you have gallbladder, as it could lead to pancreatitis. Rifaximin is another medication (antibiotic) that acts on certain bacteria in your gut. It’s sometimes used to treat traveler’s diarrhea.

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