1 in 3 people suffer from constipation. Although it may be perceived as an irritating condition, it can also contribute to the development of long term issues.
The leading cause of faecal incontinence is constipation. The topic can be unpleasant to talk about, but it’s important for you to learn how constipation can cause problems, such as pelvic floor disorders, and how to prevent them.
How Can Constipation Damage Your Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor muscles can be damaged like any other muscle. One thing that can damage those muscles is constipation. Chronic constipation can weaken pelvic floor muscles in both men and women. Childbirth is the most common cause of pelvic floor damage in women due to the strain and stretching involved. Weak pelvic floor muscles can also attribute to prolapse of one or more of the pelvic organs (e.g. the bladder, womb or bowel). In fact, 70% of patients who suffer from rectal prolapse also experience constipation too.
Studies suggest that constipation can damage the pelvic floor just as much as childbirth can. Therefore, it is extremely important to recognise and treat constipation as soon as it develops to reduce the risk of a pelvic floor disorder developing.
Constipation can also increase the risk of urinary incontinence. When the bowel becomes enlarged it can put pressure on the bladder and reduce the amount of urine it can hold, risking accidental leakage.
Straining on the toilet as a result of constipation also risks stretching and weakening the pelvic floor muscles which are vital for closing off the urinary and anal sphincters.
What Causes Constipation?
When waste doesn’t pass through the digestive tract fast enough constipation can occur. This can also happen if stool cannot be eliminated effectively from the rectum, causing stool to become hard and dry. Main causes of constipation include:
- Obstructions in the colon or rectum – These can slow or stop stool movement completely. This can be the fault of an anal fissure, rectal or colon cancer, rectocele, and more.
- Nerve issues – Nerves that cause the muscles in the colon and rectum to contract and move stool through the intestines can be affected by neurological problems such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
- Pelvic floor muscle difficulty – Chronic constipation may be caused if the pelvic floor muscles are weakened.
- Hormone imbalances – Diseases and conditions that disrupt the balance of hormones can lead to constipation.
What are the Symptoms of Constipation?
The signs and symptoms of chronic constipation can include:
- Passing fewer than three stools a week
- Passing hard or lumpy stools
- Straining to pass stool
- The feeling of a blockage in your rectum that is preventing bowel movements
- Not feeling completely empty after passing stool
- Having to use your hands to press on your abdomen to help empty rectum, or using a finger to remove stool from your rectum.
If you’ve experienced two or more of these symptoms for the previous three months, constipation may be considered chronic.
What are the Risk Factors for Constipation?
Factors that may increase your risk of developing constipation include:
- Being a woman (Studies don’t show an exact cause of why women are more affected than men, but it’s thought to be because of hormone changes)
- Being dehydrated
- Eating a low-fibre diet
- Being inactive
How Can You Prevent Constipation?
There are many ways to avoid constipation, these include:
- Kegel exercises – Increasing the strength of your pelvic floor muscles can help you to pass stool without difficulty. If you find it hard to perform manual Kegels, try using the Kegel8 Ultra 20 Electronic Pelvic Toner to efficiently locate and exercise your pelvic floor muscles.
- Toilet stool – A toilet stool can help you to perfect your position, making it easier to pass stool and lessen the strain on your pelvic floor muscles.
- Magnesium – Magnesium can help to strengthen your muscles and get things moving.
- Sitz bath – An Epsom salt bath also helps with magnesium absorption.
- Diet improvements - Dietary guidelines in the UK recommend a daily intake of at least 30 grams of fibre. Most of the UK population fall short of this target: the average daily intake is just 18 grams! Cancer research also recently estimated that 28% of bowel cancers in the UK are caused by eating too little fibre.
- Drinking plenty of water – Avoid fruit juices and drink plenty of fluids to help with bowel movements.
- Being active – You should ensure you keep active to regulate bowel movements.
- Don’t ignore urges to pass stool – It’s vital you don’t hold on if you need to go.
- Sit for longer - Don’t be afraid to sit for longer on the toilet if you need to.
Watch physiotherapist, Michelle Kenway, talk about how to empty your bowels effectively and overcome constipation problems.
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