Abdominal pain is a common complaint. It could signal a benign illness or indicate a serious medical condition. The location, duration and associated symptoms of the pain are important in diagnosing its cause. Constipation is one of the most common causes of abdominal pain, especially in children, in adults with certain medical conditions and in seniors.
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Constipation is defined as the infrequent or uncomfortable passage of stools. Constipation can be acute, in that it starts suddenly, or chronic, which may persist for months. MedlinePlus characterizes constipation as inability to pass a bowel movement after more than ten minutes of straining or have no bowel movements for more than three days.
The main cause is poor intake of high fiber foods. Fiber brings water into the intestine, facilitating the passage of stools. For the same reason, dehydration and low intake of fluids can also lead to constipation. Certain medical condition, like hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s disease, can slow down the transit of stools through the intestine. Finally, medicines like antihistamines and some over the counter antacids can lead to slowed transit time of stools.
The pain of constipation can be generalized or localized to the left lower area of the abdomen, where the rectum is located. In children, the pain of constipation can be severe and can mimic more serious conditions like appendicitis or intestinal obstruction. Other symptoms that accompany the pain of constipation include nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, straining when trying to have a bowel movement and the feeling of incomplete bowel evacuation.
The treatment of constipation starts with dietary adjustments to increase the intake of fluids and fiber-rich foods. Other therapies include bulking agents that add bulk to the stool, laxatives, stool softeners and enemas. Exercise is also important to maintaining regular bowel movements.
Severe abdominal pain and constipation could be a sign of bowel obstruction, which could require surgical intervention. Another complication is an impaction, in which a hard mass of stool blocks the intestine. Signs of an impaction include severe abdominal cramps, pain in the rectal area, and passage of watery stools around the hardened impaction.