The Difference between Acute Constipation and Chronic Constipation

Published on February 24, 2016

Constipation isn’t defined with one definition. Many patients have one or more symptoms, like infrequent stools (usually less than three a week), hard stools, not feeling complete evacuation, straining while defecating, unsuccessful defecation, or too much time spent on the toilet.

There are various constipation causes, but eating the wrong types of food, not eating the right types of food, low fibre intake, and diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) usually are the cause.
Knowing the difference between acute and chronic constipation is an important step when it comes to evaluating someone who suffers with constipation, since it will determine the management strategy and treatment plan.

Acute Constipation

The onset of acute constipation is sudden and it lasts for several days. It’s usually caused by medication, blockage, dehydration, prolonged activity, or missing a bowel movement. With women who are pregnant, it can develop when the womb is pressed against the intestine. Swallowing indigestible objects and lead poisoning are also a cause sometimes, as well as general anaesthesia, which may affect the bowel muscles a couple days after surgery.

The medications below may slow down the faeces passage through the intestine and provoke acute constipation:

  • Epilepsy anticonvulsants
  • Diuretics
  • Antidepressants
  • Iron supplements
  • Calcium-channel blockers, and other heart medications
  • Morphine, codeine, and other pain medications
  • Some antacids
  • Some cold and cough medications that contain dextromethorphan

Chronic Constipation

Chronic constipation can be defined as the instance of two or more of the specified below inside an eight week period:

  • Three bowel movements each week.
  • One incident of faecal incontinence each week.
  • Big stools in the rectum or apparent upon examination of the abdomen.
  • Withholding behaviour and retentive posturing.
  • Defecation that is painful.

The most common scenario is defecation that is frightening or painful, and leads to apprehension about retention, defecation, and a series of withholding and passing of hard stool.

Don’t confuse normal constipation with chronic constipation. Normal constipation lasts for a brief period and its symptoms resolve in a fairly short time. With chronic constipation, however, the symptoms last for a longer duration, usually around three or more months and in some cases, years.

It is a long-term condition that can impact a person’s social and work life. It is generally not relieved with OTC laxatives or lifestyle changes and could require medical attention. Although the occasional onset of constipation is common, in some cases, people will experience chronic constipation, which interferes with their ability to do daily tasks.

Chronic constipation treatment will depend on the underlying cause. However, in some scenarios, the cause is never found. The treatment typically starts with lifestyle and diet changes which are meant for increasing the speed of the stool moving through your intestines.

When simple measures like this fail, laxative tablets are often the next step. For acute constipation, stimulant laxatives like Dulcolax® tablets are often used. Other treatments for acute constipation may also include suppositories, enemas or osmotic aperients. For treatment of chronic constipation you should follow the recommendations of your doctor.

Always read the label and follow the directions for use.

Learn about which Dulcolax product may be appropriate for you.


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