Constipation Advice from WebMD

Am I Constipated? — Understanding Treatment for Constipation

Occasional constipation does not justify visiting a doctor, but you should seek professional advice for a persistent problem.

During a physical exam, the doctor will check your abdomen for any sign of a hardened mass and may conduct a rectal exam.

He or she may also take a blood sample and examine your colon with a sigmoidoscope or a colonoscope, a flexible tube with a video camera that is inserted into the rectum. You might also need a barium enema, which coats the intestinal lining so it can be seen on an X-ray.

What Are the Treatments for Constipation?

Most cases of constipation respond to conservative treatment, such as dietary and exercise changes or mild laxatives.

Your doctor will probably start treatment by recommending more fiber or bulk in your diet. Except for fiber or bulking agents, over-the-counter laxatives should be avoided. Your doctor will also encourage you to take adequate time for moving your bowels and not to suppress the urge to have a bowel movement. Increasing exercise is also important if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. For stubborn constipation in older children or adults, the doctor may recommend a non-digestible sugar called lactulose or specially formulated electrolyte solutions.

Fecal impaction is a more serious form of constipation that sometimes affects the elderly and disabled. To release hardened material in the rectum, a doctor inserts a gloved finger and manually breaks up the solidified stool. A gentle enema using warm water or mineral oil may also be helpful.

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