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What is Functional Constipation and How is it Different from IBS?

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Most people suffer from bouts of constipation from time to time. However, when those bouts become more frequent and begin to impact daily life, it is time to get the problem checked by a well-trained doctor that practices functional medicine, like Dr. Tiffani Fries of Genesis Chiropractic in Salt Lake City, Utah, to ensure there are no underlying medical reasons for this situation.

While most people are very uncomfortable discussing their bowel habits with others, this is an important subject to broach with your doctor. You should be relieved to know you are not alone in your struggle to defecate. Medical researchers have estimated that over 2.5 million doctor visit reasons involve constipation.

Some individuals have a bowel condition called IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, that can be treated with the proper care options.

The Constipation May Not Be IBS but Functional Constipation Which Differs

There is another form of constipation that is termed functional constipation, and there are some key differences between functional constipation and IBS-related constipation or diarrhea bouts.

Functional constipation is diagnosed when someone has chronic periods of constipation without any known cause. This is also referred to as chronic idiopathic constipation. Functional constipation symptoms are similar to IBS when it is classified as constipation-predominant type making it a bit difficult to accurately diagnose in some cases.

Understanding the 3 Types of Functional Constipation

It is important to understand that there are 3 different functional constipation types.

These types include:

  • 1. Normal Transit Constipation
  • 2. Slow Transit Constipation
  • 3. Defecation Disorders

1. Normal Transit Constipation

This is the most diagnosed functional constipation type: the muscles responsible for propelling waste through the intestinal tract squeeze and relax in the normal and expected manner.

2. Slow Transit Constipation

Like its name, this type of functional constipation type is diagnosed when colonic waste is slow to transit the colon.

3. Defecation Disorders

This third type of functional constipation is seen when a very specific muscle of the colon is dysfunctional in some manner.

Some of the Most Common Functional Constipation Symptoms

Individuals should monitor their bowel habits and alert their doctor if they have any ongoing problems with constipation or other symptoms that may indicate functional constipation or another issue.

Common symptoms of functional constipation include:

  • Dry or Extra Hard Stool
  • No Real Urge to Go to the Bathroom to Defecate
  • Only Having 1 or Fewer Bowel Movements a Week
  • Spending a Lot of Time Sitting on Commode with No Results
  • Bloating Abdominal
  • Weight Loss for Unknown Reasons
  • Headaches – More Common in Children
  • Blood Mixed with Stool
  • Lowered Blood Count

Unlike IBS and other bowel conditions, most individuals do not suffer from intense abdominal cramping or pain with functional constipation.

How Long Will Functional Constipation Last Without Treatment?

In most cases, this type of constipation typically lasts until the underlying cause of the constipation is resolved.

How Is Functional Constipation Diagnosed?

It is important to speak with your doctor regarding your abnormal bowel habits. Your doctor will need to know exactly what symptoms you have been having, and parents should pursue this matter for their children.

You will need to convey your personal and family history of bowel-related disorders or diagnoses. There is usually not a genetic connection for functional constipation issues, but this information can help the physician rule out or in certain types of symptomologies to make an accurate diagnosis. This includes environmental factors as well as genetic triggers.

The one significant indicator of functional constipation is having only 2 or fewer bowel movements in a given week. Everyone will have different bowel habits, but this is a key factor that should always be relayed to the physician.

Expect to undergo a physical exam to determine what is causing constipation. This exam may include:

  • Blood Tests
  • Rectal Exam
  • Defecography
  • Endoscopy
  • Anorectal Manometry
  • Balloon Expulsion Testing & Other Tests

A doctor will rule out any possible organic causes of your constipation such as IBS. One of the most important differences between IBS and functional constipation symptoms is that IBS usually causes intense abdominal discomfort or pain while functional constipation lacks this symptom.

Distinguishing Functional Constipation with IBS-C

Many of the symptoms of these two bowel disorders are the same. However, there are some differences. Both disorders will likely cause a reduction in job or school-related productivity. Functional constipation is more common in younger individuals. Children also will have incomplete bowel movement evacuations.

Possible Causes of Functional Constipation

Although functional constipation does not have a physical or other true cause, there are some risk factors in both children and adults that can lead to constipation, and some causes are commonly accepted by medical doctors.

These risk factors include:

  • An Imbalance in Gut Bacteria
  • Poor Dietary Habits
  • Dehydration & Lowered Fluid Intake
  • Chronic Underlying Stress & Anxiety
  • SIBO – Small Bowel Overgrowth of Bacteria
  • Too High or Too Low Fiber Intake
  • Nervousness or Anxious Behaviors
  • Descending Perineum Syndrome – Indicated When Perineum Balloons Outward
  • Development of Anismus – Patient Doesn’t Relax Muscles of the Pelvic Floor
  • Unwilling to Evacuate Bowel or Defecate
  • After Use of Some Types of Laxatives

Special Note Regarding Children with Functional Constipation

Researchers estimate that up to a quarter of kids develop some type of constipation that may become chronic. This is usually the result of an early bowel training event that caused the child pain during defecation.

As a result, the child will try to avoid undergoing this pain again by not putting forth the effort needed to evacuate the bowel of stool.

Managing Functional Constipation

Avoid overuse of laxatives that may make the condition worse.

Consider the following treatments and management measures:

  • Dietary Changes
  • Probiotics
  • Stress Relieve Measures
  • Enemas – Usually Not a Good Option
  • Glycerin Suppositories
  • Polyethylene glycol – PEG – Found to Be Effective Under Close Supervision
  • Biofeedback Therapy
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Follow Up with Maintenance Measures

Special Note

If you or your child exhibits the following symptoms contact your doctor right away.

  • Intense & Ongoing Abdominal Cramping or Pain
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in Stool

Contact Dr. Tiffani Fries at Genesis Chiropractic located in Salt Lake City, Utah, regarding more information on functional constipation, IBS, stress, or other related issues by phone or online. Book an appointment with Dr. Fries today!

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