The Fatal Four might sound like something out of an Adam Sandler comedy, but this right here is way worse than what he could have come up with. Constipation, dehydration, aspiration, and seizures make up what’s known as the fatal four in the medical field.
These conditions tend to impact an individual’s quality of life severely, and in some instances, it could be deadly.
So, why’s constipation part of the fatal four?
Most humans don’t like poop. Most find it disgusting, but something we have to do to survive. At best, it’s something we do without having to think about it, and at worse, it could kill us.
The general definition of constipation refers to the process of having no bowel movement within three days, or only passing stool three times in a week. This rule might not necessarily apply to everyone since we all have different physiological makeup. Some people might be constipated even if they don’t meet up with this standard.
Constipation Risk Factors
In most cases, constipation is often rooted in our lifestyle issues or eating habits, but sometimes it could be caused by medical issues. Some common contributors include;
- Surgery or hospitalization
- Being elderly
- Lack of muscle function/tone
- Not enough dietary fibre in meals
- Being female
- Nerve problems or damage
- Certain medications, including iron and calcium supplements
Some other conditions, like multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), diabetes, and also pregnancy, could contribute to a constipated state.
A few of these factors are common among the IDD population. Take, for instance, people who have Down syndrome or Cerebral palsy tend to have a reduced muscle tone, which is one of the contributors to constipation. As a result, a large percentage of the IDD community experience limited mobility and use multiple medications. People with pica usually eat non-food substances, and this usually contributes to bowel blockages.
The Signs of Constipation
It’s quite easy to recognize constipation yourself because it’s usually an uncomfortable state, and you’re in control of your senses. Unfortunately, it can be difficult detecting it in others, especially in children.
Luckily, there are some signs you can look out for in them;
- Infrequent stools: Going to the toilet fewer than three times weekly or staying longer than three days in between passing stools could be a major red flag.
- Straining on the toilet: Passing stools should be done freely and comfortably, with little or no effort involved.
- Lumpy or hard stools: A normal stool is usually soft, but not loose, and has a sausage-like shape.
- Liquid stools or excessive gas: In some cases, when faeces are trapped within the colon, liquid stools or gases back up and escape around the blockage.
- Always feeling the need to go: Most constipated individuals might be able to pass small amounts of stools but never wholly emptying their bowels. Regardless of how long they spend on the toilet, they still feel the need to go a few minutes later.
- Abdominal pain or bloating: This situation is caused when gases are trapped in the colon, or severe cases of the stool backing up inside the body.
Complications that occur from constipation
Bowel impaction is the most severe and relatively common complication that arises from chronic or extended constipation. The phrase is gotten from the fact that the stools have become so hardened, big, or solid that the body cannot remove them. This complication tends to be deadly if left untreated for longer than required.
Bowel impaction can lead toxins to build up in the body, leading to a ruptured intestine. A doctor needs to use x-ray images to diagnose an impaction when all symptoms point towards that particular problem. Common signs include;
- Stomach pains
- Chronic or extended constipation
- Watery or leaky diarrhea
- Swollen and hard abdomen
- An urge, but inability, to defecate
- Rectal bleeding
One of the best and most effective ways of dealing with constipation is preventing it from happening in the first place. You could use the tips listed here to help reduce the risk of constipation in both yourself and the people you support.
- Encouraging a well-balanced diet A diet that’s filled with high-fibre foods helps in promoting the movement of fluids and materials through the digestive system. Some individuals tend to experience an increase in constipation when they eat lots of dairy products or red meat. It could be due to individual sensitivity, or maybe the food items are taking the place of fibre in the diet, which isn’t particularly healthy.
- Use probiotics Studies carried out on the issue have shown that probiotics like the ones found in yogurt tend to improve several bowel problems – constipation included. Always try to incorporate them into your diet as often as possible.
- Increase intake of fluids Since constipation happens when the stools are dry, it would be best if you increase your fluid intake to reduce or prevent it from occurring.
- Be more active Engaging in physical activities helps increase the motility of the digestive tract, preventing stools from getting lodged in the intestines.
- Reduce sodium intake Excessive salt in the body could result in the intestines absorbing additional water from the stool, drying it out, and increasing the risk of getting constipation.
- Reduce alcohol consumption Since alcohol increases dehydration, it indirectly increases the risk of becoming constipated. Always remember to do everything in moderation.
- Track your bowel movements This tip is particularly useful for people with risk factors or a history of constipation. It’s usually best to track the size, frequency, and consistency of the stools. This strategy will enable you to identify symptoms on time and act accordingly.
- Consider stool softeners Lots of people benefit from using stool softeners regularly or taking fibre supplements to make faeces easier to pass. Most of these products can be found over the counter (OTC). While some of them might require a doctor’s prescription before use, a few others don’t need them.
- Support regular bowel habits Holding back stools or resisting the urge to poo tends to lead to hardening of the faeces, and this causes constipation. Come up with ways to help the individual you’re supporting to develop healthy routines, like having bowel movements at a particular time of the day. Unless there are no other options, never “hold” you stool or advise someone to do so.
If, after following all of these tips and the individual still suffer from frequent constipation, it’ll probably be best to alert their doctor or healthcare provider. In some cases, constipation could be warning signs of other health issues and might be caused by an underlying condition.
Constipation might suck, but it doesn’t have to be life-threatening or deadly. Having more information at your disposal about this condition could help you and your loved ones to live relatively healthy and safe lives.