When Does Constipation Require Medical Treatment?

Most people pay little attention to their intestines unless something goes wrong. Regular bowel movements are one sign of a healthy digestive system, and when things slow down or screech to a halt, most people take notice.

Constipation is an extremely common digestive complaint and usually resolves on its own. Sometimes, however, constipation is a symptom of another condition that requires help from a medical professional, such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease

With bowel movements varying widely from person to person, discerning when you need to reach out to a doctor can be challenging. So, when is constipation nothing more than a temporary annoyance, and when does it require medical help? Read on to find out.

Constipation 101

Constipation occurs when you have fewer than three bowel movements each week. You should also take notice if you abruptly have a drastic change in bowel habits. 

Classic symptoms of constipation to look out for include:

Passing hard, dry stools

Keep in mind that symptoms can fall on a spectrum. You can experience occasional constipation, meaning your symptoms occur infrequently, or you can have chronic constipation, meaning you have few bowel movements on an ongoing basis. Your constipation is considered chronic if you experience symptoms for at least 12 weeks. 

When to see a doctor for constipation

You shouldn’t hesitate to seek medical care any time you’re concerned, but there are certain times when constipation definitely requires a professional’s input. Listed below are some signs you’re dealing with chronic or severe constipation.

You experience a drastic change in bowel habits

What’s considered a normal schedule is different for everyone. For some people two bowel movements each day are normal, and for others it’s once every other day. If your normal frequency abruptly changes and does so for more than a few weeks, it’s wise to check in with one of our doctors.

You’re in pain

Chronic constipation can cause abdominal pain as waste builds up in your intestines. You don’t have to live with the uncomfortable, bloated feeling. Anytime you experience frequent, recurrent, or lasting abdominal pain, you should come in for a thorough evaluation. 

There’s blood in your stool

You should never ignore blood in your stool. This may appear as a red streak on your toilet paper, or you may see blood in the toilet. Either way, it’s time to see a doctor. Several conditions are associated with bloody stool, some as simple as hemorrhoids, and others more serious, such as ulcerative colitis, polyps, and colon cancers.

You haven’t gone for an extended period with no obvious reason

Anytime you go more than a week without a bowel movement you should seek medical attention. This is especially true if you normally have a regular bowel schedule. Sometimes the explanation is as harmless as a change in eating habits or a new medication. If you’ve recently discovered a love for cheese and overdone it, that can stop you up. But you won’t know unless you see a doctor, and it’s important to rule out other more serious causes.

When you visit Illinois Gastroenterology Group about your constipation, you can rest assured that you’re in good hands. Our team of highly trained gastroenterologists combine years of experience with the latest advancements and research to evaluate and diagnose conditions that affect the digestive system.

Treatment for constipation may include:

Lifestyle changes

Our team utilizes a full range of diagnostic resources to get to the bottom of your digestive issues. For a comprehensive evaluation for constipation and for all of your digestive health needs, call the office nearest you to schedule an appointment

We have offices in Elgin, South Elgin, and Lake in the Hills. New and existing patients can also request an appointment online using our web form.

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