Constipation

Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint, resulting in 2.5 million medical visits annually. Characterized by infrequent bowel movements, excessive straining or uncomfortable passage of small amounts of hard stool, constipation occurs when there is a lack of adequate fiber or fluid in your diet, or when you are not active. Some medicines cause constipation. Cancer that puts pressure on your bowel or changes the way your bowel works may also cause constipation, as can conditions such as hypothyroidism and inflammatory bowel disease.

Board certified colon and rectal surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) offer the most advanced minimally invasive surgery approaches for patients with constipation, including laparoscopic options. When non-surgical approaches are recommended, we work closely with specialists from Gastroenterology.

Our surgeons also address medical complications caused by constipation, such as hemorrhoidsanal fissures and rectal prolapseLearn more about constipation.

Constipation Topics

Diagnosis of Constipation

Colon and rectal surgeons offer a range of procedures for diagnosing constipation, including:

  • Physical examination and digital rectal examination (DRE)
  • Abdominal X-ray
  • Colonoscopy
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Defecography
  • Colorectal transit study
  • Anorectal function tests (anorectal manometry)

Learn more about diagnostic procedures for constipation.

Treatment for Constipation

Surgical Treatment

For select patients with severe constipation symptoms caused by colonic inertia, our colon and rectal surgeons at BWH offer unmatched experience in these surgical options:

  • Total Colectomy, or colorectal resection, the surgical removal (resection) of the large intestine with ileorectal anastomosis or “hookup” of the small intestine to the rectum. Colon and rectal surgeons at BWH specialize in laparoscopic colectomy surgery, a minimally invasive approach with small incisions.

Read instructions for magnesium citrate preparation prior to surgery.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Constipation can often be treated through dietary and lifestyle changes. Treatment may include:

  • Diet modifications
  • Laxatives
  • Medication changes
  • Biofeedback

Learn more about non-surgical treatments for constipation.

What You Should Expect

You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have constipation and if surgery is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced colon and rectal surgeon are important to the successful outcome for patients with colorectal conditions.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.

The day of surgery, you will be taken care of in the operating room by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for constipation. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.

Learn more about your hospital stay and returning home.

Multidisciplinary Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating constipation. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.

Resources

Go to our health library to learn more about constipation.

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.

Visit the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation.

Access a complete directory of patient and family services.

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