Constipation is a disease condition resembling to Vibandha described in Ayurveda. It refers to bowel movements that are infrequent or hard to pass and is a general term used to indicate fewer bowel movements, Solidified hard stools, painful defecation and feeling of bloating, abdominal discomfort or incomplete elimination. Constipation is a common cause of painful defecation. Severe constipation includes obstipation (failure to pass stools or gas, Intestinal obstruction; severe constipation.) and fecal impaction, which can progress to bowel obstruction and become life-threatening. It is a very common gastro-intestinal disorder experienced by most people at some time during their life time. Numerous conditions can lead to constipation by disrupting the normal process of absorption, stool formation and propelling of feces within the large intestine.
Constipation may be just due to a poor diet with insufficient fiber, poor fluid intake or a side effect of certain medication. Sometimes it may be due to any mechanical obstruction or a serious problem such as colon cancer.
Elderly people are more likely to suffer from constipation due to changes in diet, medication and/ or decreased mobility and intestinal motility. The exact figure on the prevalence of constipation is not known. Around 2% of the population suffers recurrent and constant
constipation and is more common in women than in men. The overall prevalence of self reported constipation is 24 to 37%. In the institutionalized elderly, up to 50% self-report constipation and up to 74% use laxatives regularly.
Constipation in Children
Constipation in children usually occurs at three distinct points in time:
1, After starting formula or processed foods (while an infant).
2, During toilet training toddlerhood.
3, Soon after starting school (as in at kindergarten).
After birth, most infants pass 4-5 soft liquid bowel movements a day. Breast-fed infants usually tend to have more bowel movements compared to manufactured food designed and marketed for feeding to babies and infants generally known as formula food. Some breast-fed infants have a bowel movement after each feed, whereas others have only one every 2–3 days. Infants who are breast-fed rarely develop constipation. By the age of two years, a child may usually have 1–2 bowel movements per day and by four years of age, a child may have one bowel movement per day.
Constipation occurs when the large intestine absorbs too much water from the stool with the result dry and hard stools are passed. It may also be due to inadequate contraction of bowel walls to expel the stool and waste product. It occurs due to :-
1,Poor diet(low fiber diet).
2, less immobility and lack of exercise.
3. Ageing, stress and travel.
4. Ignoring the urge to defecate.
5. Inadequate fluid intake
6. Medications (antacids, anti-histamines, anti-psychotic drugs, aspirin, beta blockers,anti-hypertensive drugs, iron and calcium supplements, diuretics, calcium channel blockers etc.)
7. Secondary to Diseases (hypothyroidism, anal fissure, chronic renal failure,colon or rectal cancer, hypercalcaemia e.t.c.)
1. Older age
2. Female gender
3. Less exercise/ physical activity)
4,Low calorie intake
The following symptoms may be associated with constipation
1. Passage of hard stools
2. Abdominal pain/ discomfort or bloating
3. Straining during passage of stools
6. Feeling of incomplete evacuation
Although constipation is rarely serious, but in chronic stage it may lead to
1. Bowel obstruction
3. Rectal prolapse
5. Spastic colitis
6. Laxative abuse – A large number of people use laxatives (self-medication) for constipation. This is not a good practice, especially if these are used regularly for
longer duration. Chronic laxative use can alter the normal physiological functions of the intestines.
7. Excessive straining may have deleterious effects on the cerebral, coronary, and peripheral arterial circulation resulting in syncope, cardiac ischemia, and transient
Criteria for diagnosing chronic functional constipation
a. Presence of two or more of the following symptoms, for at least 12 weeks in the preceding year
1. Straining with > 25% of bowel movements
2. Sense of incomplete evacuation with > 25% of bowel movements
3. Hard or pellet stools with > 25% of bowel movements
4. Manual evaluation maneuvers with > 25% of bowel movements
5. Feeling of anorectal blockage with > 25% of bowel movements
6. Number of bowel movements two or less per week
b. Absence of loose stools and insufficient criteria for irritable bowel syndrome Investigations
1. Stool examination
2. Barium enema
3. Lower G.I. Endoscopy
4. Ultra-sonography (whole abdomen)
5. Complete haemogram
1. Consumption of godhuma (wheat), mudga (green gram), old rice, rasona (garlic), seasonal fruits, high fiber diet, hingu (asafoetida), draksha (grapes), Amalak(Phyllanthus emblica gartn), haritaki (Terminelia chebula Retz.), pippali (long pepper),Shunthi (dry ginger), green leafy vegetables and lukewarm water.
2. Consumption of light and easily digestible high fiber diet.
3. Intake of plenty of fluids and water (minimum 2-3 lt. per day)
4. Drink a glass of warm water, early in the morning (This helps in gastro-colic reflex and results into bowel evacuation)
5. Practice regular exercise
6. Follow a healthy dietetic plan that emphasize fruits, green leafy and other vegetables and fibre rich diet
7. Avoid irregular food habits, heavy, unwholesome, excess oily and spicy food items,bakery and preserved items
8. Avoid suppression of natural urges, excess tea, coffee, smoking
9. Avoid using self medication
b. Medical management
Line of treatment (Ca. Ci. 28/ 90)
1. Nidana parivarjana (avoidance of aetiological factors) Incompatible diet, irregular food habits, low fiber diet, stress, and inadequate fluid intake should be avoided.
2. Samshodhana chikitsa (Bio-cleansing therapies) followed by Shamana chikitsa (Palliative therapy) should be advocated.
i. Snehapana (internal oleation) with Sukumara ghrita 50 ml with 2-3 gm saindhava lavana daily for 3-7 days before panchakarma (bio- cleansing procedure)
ii. Sarvanga sveda for 1 day
iii. Virechana (therapeutic purgation) with Draksha (Vitis vinifera) – 10 gm Aragvadha (Cassia fistula) -10 gm Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) – 10 gm
Kutaki (Picrorhiza curroa) – 5 gm along with 1 teaspoon full Eranda(Ricinus communis) taila or Eranda taila 10 – 20 ml with half glass of milk at night.
Anuvasana vasti with Dashamula taila/ Pippalyadi taila 50ml and Niruha vasti with Dashamula kvatha 240 ml, honey 120 ml, Pippalyadi taila 120 ml, saindhava
lavana 5 gm etc. alternately for 8 days (Yoga vasti krama)
v. Phalavarti (medicated suppositories)
Virechana and Vasti should be decided by physician according to the condition of the patient whether Shodhana therapy (bio-cleansing therapies) is beneficial or not.
(Above said formulations and dosage are common in practice but dose should be adjusted by the physician according to patient’s condition)