Constipation is a very common problem. In the very large majority of cases, constipation is a benign problem of colon motility caused by diet, lifestyle, aging, or unknown factors. Most people get constipated from time to time. However, constipation that persists should not be ignored and I recommend you see a doctor
. The reason is because when persistent constipation occurs along with persistent changes in bowel habit, changes in the stool (smaller diameter or black tarry stools), fatigue, weight loss
, and possible blood in the stool, these can be signs of colon cancer. Your symptoms do not sound particularly alarming (especially if you are young) and, as you say, could be due to a dietary or infectious cause. But if constipation is a persistent problem for you, it is time to see a doctor and have it looked into, especially now that you are noticing some changes to your stools and energy level. You should make an appointment to see your primary care physician
as soon as possible to discuss your symptoms. In the meantime, here are some tips to alleviate your constipation until you see the doctor. There are several safe and easy lifestyle changes that will do more to improve constipation than any medication. Any patient suffering from constipation should: 1) walk frequently and spend the majority of the day out of bed, 2) be sure to consume an adequate amount of non-caffeinated fluids daily (at least 9-12 cups of fluid daily), and 3) increase dietary fiber with either fruits, vegetables, or soluble fiber supplements (although natural fiber in fruits, vegetables, and juices work better. There are many over the counter medications designed to treat constipation, which fall into four categories: fiber supplements, stool softeners, stimulant laxatives, and enemas. I listed these medications in terms of how gentle and well tolerated they tend to be. Avoid using stimulant laxatives while also increasing fluid intake, fiber intake, and possibly a stool softener. Otherwise, they can cause cramping and discomfort. Finally consult with your physician to determine whether you are on any medications that cause constipation, and whether any offending medications can be decreased or stopped. Be sure to make an urgent appointment with your primary care doctor or go to the nearest hospital if your constipation lasts longer than three weeks, is severe, or is associated with any other concerning features such as blood in the stool, change in stool caliber, weight loss, fevers, or increasing weakness.