Constipation can be caused by various factors, from a low-fiber diet to menstruation.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is a common gastrointestinal condition in Singapore that causes infrequent bowel movements or incomplete emptying of the bowels. It can also cause hard and lumpy stools that are too large or too small. It can affect anyone at any age and has many causes. 

Although constipation is usually temporary and resolves independently, it may sometimes progress and require medical intervention. It can be a side effect from medication, a lack of fibre in the diet, a symptom of chronic disease, or an underlying health condition such as colon cancer. If left untreated, chronic constipation can cause more serious problems such as haemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal prolapse, and impacted faecal matter (accumulated stool stuck in the intestines).

bristol chart constipation
The Bristol Chart classifies stools or faecal matter according to their hardness. Type 1 and 2 stools are considered constipation.

What causes Constipation?

There are many factors and reasons for why constipation happens; they include:

  • Diet and lifestyle: a sedentary lifestyle coupled with a low-fibre diet and minimal physical activity can result in constipation. 
  • Medications: certain medications such as opioids, sedatives, and anti-depressants may cause constipation. 
  • Dehydration: dehydration can cause the large intestines to absorb more water from food waste, leaving you with dry and hard stools, thus leading to constipation. 
  • Medical conditions: conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, Parkinson’s disease, lupus, and other conditions may cause constipation. Endocrine conditions like hypothyroidism, diabetes, and hypercalcaemia may also cause constipation. Colorectal cancer can also cause constipation.
  • Hormonal imbalances and changes: pregnant women often experience constipation due to hormonal changes. During menstruation and menopause, the drop in hormone levels may also cause constipation.

What are the symptoms of Constipation?

Symptoms of constipation include: 

  • Less than three bowel movements a week
  • Dry, hard, and lumpy stools
  • Difficulty and pain during bowel movements
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea 
  • Bloating
  • A feeling of not completely emptying the bowels

Is Constipation painful?

Yes, constipation can be painful and uncomfortable. It may cause straining in the rectum, leading to tearing and bleeding. It may also cause stomach cramps and bloating. Seek treatment if you are experiencing constipation often or if symptoms do not resolve after a few days. 

Who is at risk of Constipation in Singapore?

Constipation is a common problem affecting people of all ages and backgrounds, including those in Singapore. The risk factors of constipation include:

constipation diet
A healthy and balanced diet can prevent and relieve constipation.

How is Constipation diagnosed?

It depends on the individual and their medical history. In general, this is the diagnostic process for constipation: 

  • Medical history: your colorectal specialist will take a detailed medical history and ask questions about your bowel habits, such as frequency. They may also ask about your diet, lifestyle, medications, and if you have any underlying medical conditions.
  • Physical examination: a physical exam may be done to check for signs of tenderness, bloating, or masses. 
  • Imaging tests: common imaging tests for constipation include abdominal X-rays and ultrasounds.
  • Colonoscopy: a colonoscopy might be recommended if concerns about other gastrointestinal conditions exist. This involves using a long, flexible tube with a camera to examine the entire colon and rectum.
  • Gastroscopy: a gastroscopy involves guiding a thin, flexible tube through the mouth and into the stomach and small intestine to check for abnormalities.
  • Blood tests: blood tests may be ordered to rule out certain medical conditions that could be causing or contributing to constipation.

What are the treatment options for Constipation in Singapore?

The treatment options for constipation in Singapore typically include a combination of lifestyle and diet changes, over-the-counter remedies, or prescription medications. The treatment plan depends on the severity of constipation and the underlying causes. Here are some common treatment options for constipation in Singapore:

  • Dietary and lifestyle changes: increasing fibre intake, staying hydrated, and regularly exercising can help improve bowel habits and prevent constipation. 
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments: these include fibre supplements such as psyllium husk, laxatives, and stool softeners to ease the symptoms and promote bowel movement. 
  • Prescription medications: medications may be prescribed for chronic or severe constipation that does not respond to other treatments.
  • Surgery: surgery is rare for treating constipation but may be required when other treatments have failed.

Frequently asked questions

Constipation is often prevented by maintaining a balanced diet with fibre, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, or managing stress.

Yes, chronic or severe constipation can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as cancer or a neurological disorder. It is essential to consult a colorectal specialist if you are experiencing chronic constipation. 

You should consider seeing a colorectal specialist if you have chronic or acute constipation that does not improve with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter remedies, if you experience severe abdominal pain, blood in stools, or other problems that interfere with daily life. 

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