Constipation and Defecation Problems

Unhealthy young woman with stomachache leaning on the bed at home.


Constipation and Defecation Problems

Occasional constipation is very common; however, some people may have chronic constipation that can interfere with their daily lives.  The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) defines constipation as unsatisfactory defecation with infrequent stool, difficult stool passage or both.  Constipation may be due to dehydration, changes in diet and activity as well as certain medications in addition to a wide range of medical conditions.   

Complications from constipation include: 

  • Hemorrhoids due to straining to have a bowel movement 
  • Anal fissures, which is a torn skin in your anus when a large or hard stool passes 
  • Impaction where an accumulation of hardened stool is stuck in your intestines 
  • Intestines that protrudes from your anus (rectal prolapse) 
  • Bowel obstruction 


Constipation and Defecation Problems Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of constipation include: 

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Passing fewer than 3 stools per week

is a sure sign of constipation

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Hard or lumpy stools 

indicates you may not be drinking enough water

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Straining to have a bowel movement

can cause hemorrhoids, tears in your anus, or even a rectal prolapse (when a portion of your intestine protrudes from your anus)

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Feeling as though you can’t complete a bowel movement 

might indicate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

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Feeling as though there’s a blockage in your rectum 

may cause tears in the walls of your bowels, and if left untreated, a blockage can become serious or even life-threatening

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Needing help to empty your rectum such as using your finger to remove stool 

must be carefully done, so you do not cause tears in the skin around your anus and inside your rectum


Constipation and Defecation Problems Diagnosis

Your doctor will rely on your account of constipation to help make a diagnosis and may also perform the following tests: 

Digital rectal exam 

is a quick and simple outpatient procedure to examine the lower rectum and other organs

Blood tests 

are used to look for a systemic condition that is causing constipation and defecation problems

X-ray and imaging tests

may help your doctor diagnose chronic constipation and identify the cause


to examine the lower portion of your colon 


to examine the entire colon 

Anorectal manometry

to assess and measure the function and coordination of the muscles you use to move your bowels 

Balloon expulsion test

to evaluate the anal sphincter muscle speed 

Colonic transit study

to evaluate how well food moves through the colon

Defecography imaging tests

to assess the function of the defecation muscles 


Constipation and Defecation Problems Treatments

If you have any persistent changes in bowel habits or constipation, make an appointment with your Saint John’s Physician Partner Gastroenterologists to determine the cause. 

Lifestyle and dietary changes

Some lifestyle changes and dietary changes that may be helpful include: 

  • Increasing your fiber intake to at least 20-30 grams daily. 
  • Drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water daily.  
  • Regular exercise most days of week. 
Other strategies

Other strategies may include: 

  • Over counter laxatives and enemas or prescription medications that can help move stool through the colon. 
  • Biofeedback therapy, which retrains the use of defecatory muscles.  
  • Severe cases may require surgery.  


Constipation and Defecation Specialists

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404

1301 20th St., Suite 280, Santa Monica, CA 90404