While it is vital to seek treatment early for chronic constipation in case it’s symptomatic of colon cancer, sometimes it’s just due to a lack of fibre intake.
HOW often do you empty your bowels in a week? If your answer is less than three times, it is something to be concerned about. And if the condition lasts for more than two months, it is time to seek medical treatment.
Constipation is common but when it becomes chronic, it causes significant pain, anxiety and distress and affects quality of life.
Unfortunately, it is a subject that the sufferers are reluctant to talk about or to see a doctor. Most either suffer in silence or seekover-the-counter solutions.
UKM Medical Centre consultant physician and gastroenterologist Associate Professor Dr Raja Affendi Raja Ali says in Malaysia, chronic constipation iscommonand requiresmedical attention.
“Some have constipation for years. There are patients who have bowel movement once a month. Imagine you empty your bowel only 12 times in a year.
“Between 20 and 35 per cent of the population suffer from constipation in silence. They feel it is an embarrassing condition and they don’t want to talk about it.
“To overcome the problem, they buy laxatives from pharmacies. They may experience a short period of relief but after some time, the symptoms return. They will only seek medical treatment when they suffer from pain.”
INSUFFICIENT INTAKE OF FIBRE
Dr Raja Affendi says it is important to seek treatment early because constipation could be one of the symptoms of colon cancer.
When patients also display symptoms such as bleeding from the back passage, severe and unexplained weight loss, low blood count and significant family history of colon cancer, further investigation warrants.
“We have to do a thorough medical check-up including blood test. Some patients, especially males who are above 50 years old, may need an endoscopy because we do not want to miss the cancer.”
However, he says, not all cases of constipation are due to colon cancer. The majority of them are because of insufficient intake of fibre and fluids, lack of exercise, out-of-balance gut bacteria, certain medications, taking too much supplements and dairy produce, and laxative abuse.
“A diet low in high fibre such as fruit and vegetables is the common cause. Constipation often reflects what we eat and eating the right food can be highly effective to prevent or relieve the problem.
“Fibre is one of the most essentialfoods in our diet for the proper functioning of our digestive system, as it maintains healthy and frequent bowel movements. Fibre helps food move through the digestive system to make stools easier to pass, while regulating frequency.”
The World Health Organisation has recommended dietary fibre intake of between 25 and 38 grams a day. However, more than 50 per cent Malaysians only consume 19 grams of fibre daily.
Dr Raja Affendi was speaking at the launch of Surbex Nutri-Fiber from Abbot.
Surbex Nutri-Fiber is a supplement to helps regulate and promote regular bowel movement especially for those who suffer from chronic constipation.
Most Malaysians’ diet is high in carbohydrates andfats and this leads to constipation.
“A high fibre diet helps soften the stool, pulling water into stool content and shorten intestinal transit time. It is important that your body dispose of the waste as soon as possible. That is why a shorter intestinal transit time is better.”
In addition to a change in diet, constipation can be prevented with regular exercise, stress management, quality sleep and early medical treatment.