When it comes to illnesses and ailments, we have no problem telling our physician that we feel like we’re catching a cold or that the dreaded flu is coming on, but there’s one topic we tend to shy away from and that’s constipation. Most if not all of us have suffered from constipation at one point or another in our lives, but for many, chronic idiopathic constipation is something they live with on a day to day basis. Renowned gastroenterologist, Dr. Susan Lucak was kind enough to join me for an interview this week to discuss constipation and chronic idiopathic constipation (CDC). She explained the most common myths and misconceptions, offered tips for speaking to your physician and even shared new treatment options.
Candace Rose: What is chronic idiopathic constipation?
Dr. Susan Lucak: “Chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) is generally defined as infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools or both. Also, frequently reported symptoms are hard or lumpy stools, straining during bowel movements, and incomplete bowel movements. These symptoms are chronic, that is they keep coming back. They’re not just occasional symptoms, but chronic symptoms.”
Candace Rose: What are some of the most common myths and misconceptions?
Dr. Susan Lucak: “Because this is a condition that we don’t talk about, so yes there are several myths and misconceptions. One of the myths is people have the impression that they should have one bowel movement per day. Actually the normal bowel habit pattern ranges from having three bowel movements per day to three bowel movements per week. Constipation is having reduced bowel movement frequency, that is less than three times per week or having difficulty having bowel movements or both.
It’s not that we always aim for having one bowel movement a day, it may be every other. If it is less than three times per week then that is constipation. Also, constipation is defined as lets say daily bowel movements but having difficulty passing stool out is a misconception or myth.
The other thing is that people think that constipation my just be temporary because some of the symptoms may be worse one day and a little better another day. We all kind of experience constipation occasionally when we travel, when we are under stress or eating constipating foods. If chronic constipation just keeps on coming back, that is a medical condition called chronic idiopathic constipation.
In my practice some of my patients often have waited years before they came to see me because they just thought that their constipation was caused by all these factors – stress, diet, and so on and so forth. It prevented them from care they needed, so it’s important to diagnose the condition, to recognize that it is chronic idiopathic constipation and then seek care for it. The other thing is that people think that constipation is uncommon because we don’t talk about it. People think they are isolated, they are alone because nobody talks about it. Actually it is a very common disorder. Although estimates vary, as many as 35 million adults in the United States suffer from CIC.
If any of your listeners are experiencing symptoms of chronic constipation, they are not alone. It’s one of the most frequent digestive complaints in the United States and one of the most common reasons people visit a doctor. Your listeners should know that and they should be aware that if they do have the symptoms they should seek care from their physicians.
The other myth is that the constipation is not serious and that is really not so in the sense that it’s not a life threatening disorder, however it can cause a lot of distress. It makes peoples lives miserable as well. People curtail their activities because of chronic constipation, even their work productivity is affected. It’s a condition that certainly impacts the quality. Also if the chronic constipation is not treated it can lead to other problems such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
The other thing is that people think that fiber and water are kind of enough to treat chronic constipation, but they’re not cure-alls. We do recommend that lifestyle changes such as increasing dietary fiber, water intake and exercise should be instituted but they are helpful more commonly with occasional constipation. For chronic constipation oftentimes these measures are not enough. There are treatments available for chronic constipation.
The other myth is that people think that over the counter medications are enough to treat chronic constipation. Even though laxatives and stool softeners are available over the counter, they may help occasional constipation but they’re also not approved to be used on a chronic basis. There are prescription medications that are FDA approved for the treatment of CIC such as Linzess. The most common side effect of Linzess is diarrhea. As with any medication, your listeners should speak to their doctor about how to manage their chronic constipation and if Linzess would be an appropriate medication for them.”
Candace Rose: Well, thank you so much Dr. Lucak. Where can we go for more information?