Harmful Effects of Chronic Long-Term Constipation

Hand holding toilet paper
Hand holding a roll of toilet paper (Image: humonia/iStock/Getty Images)

The National Institutes of Health defines constipation as having a bowel movement fewer than three times per week. People with constipation typically report dry, hard, compact stools that are difficult to eliminate. Short-term effects of constipation include bloating, abdominal pain, small amounts of blood or whitish mucus in the stool and an urgent need to have a bowel movement. Chronic, long-term constipation produces these and other, more harmful effects.

Hemorrhoids

The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons calls hemorrhoids "varicose veins of the anus and rectum." Pressure from accumulated stool impedes the outflow of blood from the veins in the anus and the rectum, causing them to become abnormally distended. Straining to produce a bowel movement increases abdominal pressure, which distends veins further and also pushes them outside their usual location within the tissues. The result may be internal hemorrhoids, external hemorrhoids or some combination of the two. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, internal hemorrhoids usually don't cause pain but may bleed profusely. External hemorrhoids cause pain, itching and extreme sensitivity.

Anal Fissures

The Mayo Clinic explains that chronic constipation may produce cracks in the skin around the anus, called anal fissures. Fissures result when hard stool stretches and abrades the anal sphincter. People with fissures, pronounced FISH-urs, complain of pain, itching and small amounts of bright red blood in their stools or on their underwear. In many cases, the fissures become infected, resulting in a collection of pus known as an abscess, which requires surgical drainage. The fissures themselves heal only when constipation resolves.

Rectal Prolapse

Rectal prolapse occurs when the rectum becomes so stretched due to the chronic accumulation of large amounts of stool that it loses the ability to contract to its former size when stool is eliminated. The loose tissue literally falls out of the body and protrudes through the anus as a small, pink mass or bubble. People with rectal prolapse often experience leakage of small amounts of stool and mucus, sensation of incomplete defecation, itching, pain and/or bleeding. According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, rectal prolapse requires surgical repair.

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