Chronic Idiopathic Constipation

What is chronic idiopathic constipation?

Chronic idiopathic constipation is an ongoing condition without any known cause or identified underlying illness. It is characterized by infrequent stools which are often difficult to pass. It typically affects women and older adults. The typical symptom of this condition is passing fewer than 3 bowel movements per week for more than 6 months. A physician usually excludes all other causes of constipation to confirm the diagnosis. The treatment options are limited but include dietary changes and physical exercise.

Risks

This condition is more commonly seen in women and older adults. The causes of chronic idiopathic constipation are largely unknown. However a reduction in fluid and fiber intake in the diet, changes in water balance, and changes in contractility of the colon are considered some of the possible causes.

Symptoms

Infrequent and difficult passage of stool is the most common symptom. Other symptoms include hard or lumpy stools, bloating and discomfort in the belly, straining while defecating, and a feeling of stool remaining in the bowel after defecating.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and physical examination. To confirm the diagnosis, all other causes of constipation should be excluded. Colonoscopy (a camera through the anus to look at the bowel), imaging studies such as MRI scans, or tests to investigate the movement of the bowel (bowel motility studies) could be needed to investigate other causes of the constipation.

Treatment

As the causes are largely unknown, the treatment options tend to be limited. Dietary changes, like increasing dietary fiber and water intake are usually helpful, as is doing regular physical exercise. Laxatives are often needed to help with softening stool and improving regularity of bowel movements. Probiotics, which replenish or balance the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria, may be helpful for some people.

Other names for chronic idiopathic constipation

  • Chronic constipation
  • Constipation
  • Functional constipation