When the bowels do not move with their accustomed frequency or when waste material is passed in small, hard masses, sometimes with pain, the symptom is called constipation. Accompanying the condition one may have a sense of fullness or tightness in the abdomen, and sometimes pain. Other associated symptoms include headache, weakness, indigestion, belching, aching muscles, and even painful urination.
Constipation is not a disease-it is a symptom indicating that the fundamental difficulty lies in improper diet, wrong eating habits, a variety of diseases or abnormalities of structure, and, quite frequently, emotional difficulties or disorders of personality.
Most people have one or two actions of the bowel daily, usually after breakfast or after the largest meal of the day. Irregularity of eating or sleeping brings on irregularity of bowel action. Travel, stress, complete changes in nature of food, also disturb regularity of bowel action.
In old people blocking of the lower bowel may occur, due to inefficiency of the bowel musculature and lessened sensitivity of the nervous system. Exceedingly old people, who spend much of their time in bed, note particularly the tendency to less frequent action of the bowel. Most people under sixty years of age may be trained to proper rhythm by teaching good habits aided by a carefully selected diet.
The simplest materials for use in ordinary cases are the lubricants such as paraffin oil or mineral oil, which must not be used routinely because it picks up vitamin A; also useful are bulk materials, such as agar or cellulose, which are available in special preparations. Spasticity of the colon and sensitivity to various foods such as chocolate, onions, garlic, cabbage, or other common sensitizers must be investigated.