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What Is Constipation?
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Main > Specialty Areas > Gastroenterology >
Constipation or Bowel Obstruction

Causes of Constipation

The movement of the ingested food down the intestines and towards the colon happens because the intestinal walls are lined with muscles which push the food down by contracting and expanding in a peristaltic motion. Imagine a snake that swallowed a rabbit. The rabbit is pushed down the snake's body through the same mechanism that the human intestines use – the muscles that line the intestinal walls work automatically – we do not consciously control them. Also, like any pipe through which stuff moves, the intestine must be clear of blockages to insure smooth passing of material.

Sometimes this process brakes down. Some reasons include an obstruction that interferes with the passing of food down the intestine – the obstruction could be a hardened chunk of feces or a (relatively) large, hard physical object, such as a small toy swallowed by a child. In rare cases, the tumor may be the cause of obstruction. Sometimes, the physical bending or squeezing of the intestine (which usually happens to people who recently undergone a surgery on those areas) could result in constipation. Finally, some medications may decrease the muscle tone or affect the strength and/or the frequency of the peristaltic motion of the muscles that line the intestinal walls.

In most cases, constipation is caused by temporary changes in diet, physical activity or other external factors. Reverting to normal life patterns usually cures the problem. Sometimes constipation becomes a chronic problem and may be caused by the lack of dietary fiber in a person's regular diet or may be age-related.

‹‹ What Is Constipation? Constipation Symptoms ››

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