Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What causes constipation?"
I'm a college-aged guy and I've never been constipated before, but I guess I am now. I haven't pooped in like five days. I'm know this is a problem, but how serious is it? It seems like anything can cause constipation, including cancer. What should I do?
They are many causes of constipation as you suggest. In a college age male the most likely causes are benign. In general it is caused by the loss of balance between how fast stool moves through your colon and how much water is left in the stool. Some common causes are not enough water or fiber intake, disruption of your daily routine, stress, dairy products, lack of exercise, etc. These are all certainly possible in a college student. There are a few other medical conditions such as imbalances in your hormones or other medical conditions that can cause constipation, which your doctor can screen for. In the meantime, there are many ways to improve constipation, and eating a high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of water is a great place to start. But beyond staying well-hydrated and eating a high-fiber diet another very basic strategy is to develop a routine, exercise regularly, and watch your dairy intake. Some people find natural remedies like prune juice to be quite effective, but if you are looking or something else a good place to start is with the stool softener docusate (Colace). This is not a stimulant, but works to help keep the stool soft and allows it to transit the colon more easily. The next line is frequently a gentle stimulant such as senna (Senokot). Taking this combined with docusate is usually enough to help keep most people regular. However, if this combination does not work there are still plenty of other options such are milk of magnesia, polyethylene glycol, or a variety of suppositories. If the problem persists you should talk with your primary care physician about further evaluation and treatment.