How We Can Help
Constipation Treatment Information
Evaluation of constipation starts with a thorough physical exam and a discussion of your medical history. Tests to find the cause of constipation include:
- Whole gut transit study. This study evaluates how food passes through your digestive system. We use SmartPill wireless sensor technology to measure pressure, pH and temperature throughout the digestive tract. You start this procedure by swallowing a “motility capsule” that has a five-day battery life. The capsule sends regular updates while it is inside your body, providing information we use to determine the reason for your constipation.
- Anorectal manometry. This study measures the strength, sensation and coordination of the rectal and anal sphincter muscles. During the 30-minute procedure, you lie on your left side and a tube, about the size of a thermometer with a balloon at the end, is inserted into your rectum. This tube is connected to a machine that measures the pressure as you squeeze, relax and push according to the instructions of a nurse or technician. Preparation for the procedure typically includes giving yourself an enema and not eating for two hours before the test.
- Defecography. This X-ray study is a way to examine the rectum and anus during defecation (a bowel movement). Defecography helps us see whether your muscles relax at the proper time during defecation and identify other problems that may not be apparent through other tests. After a barium paste that shows up on X-rays is placed in your rectum, we record images of your pelvic floor muscles and other structures as you pass the barium into a commode. Typical preparation includes giving yourself an enema two hours before the test and another one 15 minutes later. You should not eat anything in the two hours prior to the test.
Treatment options include:
- Lifestyle changes. We advise you on ways to alter your eating habits and other daily routines to relieve constipation. Getting more fiber in your diet is an important first step. Good sources of fiber include whole grain breads, shredded wheat, bran and many fruits and vegetables. Your physician or dietitian may recommend a fiber supplement. We also discuss whether medicines you might be taking for other conditions could be causing constipation. Other lifestyle changes that often help include drinking more fluids, exercising daily and trying to have a bowel movement at the same time every day.
- Medicine. Over-the-counter and prescription medicines are often effective for constipation. Laxatives (medicines that promote emptying of the bowel) are available in several forms, including tablets, liquids, powders and granules. They work in different ways and we can help you choose the laxative that is best for your condition. Despite what many people believe, laxatives can be safe for long-term use. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the prescription medicines lubiprostone (Amitiza) and linaclotide (Linzess) for treating constipation. These medicines draw water into the digestive tract, causing waste to pass more quickly. You typically take these prescription medicines once or twice daily.
- Pelvic floor biofeedback. This treatment helps you avoid constipation by learning to tighten and relax certain muscles at the right times. After sensors are connected to your body, you and a physical therapist observe your pelvic floor muscle movements based on sounds and a video display. Your therapist teaches you exercises to retrain your muscles. Biofeedback treatment typically involves six to 12 physical therapy sessions on a once-a-week schedule. You may also practice at home using a portable training device.
- Surgery. You may need a surgical procedure to correct a specific problem that is associated with constipation, such as rectal prolapse (in which the rectum falls from its normal position). In rare cases where other treatments have not worked and constipation is severe, surgery to remove the colon may be an option.
Constipation Locations & Physicians
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Constipation Support Services
Learn more about constipation at these websites:
A Sampling of Constipation Support Services
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
This nonprofit organization provides information, support and assistance to people affected by constipation and other gastrointestinal conditions.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
This U.S. government website answers key questions about the causes, diagnosis and treatment of constipation.