Chronic constipation (CC) is a common complaint reported by many
patients, and affects between 2% – 27% of the American population, and is more
common in women than men. The reason for
such a broad range comes from the lack of consensus on what constitutes
constipation since the symptoms are subjective.
CC is considered as having fewer than 3 bowel movements per week. Some of the symptoms are as follows:
Lumpy or hard stools
Sensation of incomplete evacuation
Sensation of an obstruction / blockage
Lack of physical activity
Medications that cause constipation:
Calcium & Iron supplements
The function of the Large Intestine (LI) in TCM is conduction & conveyance. When this function fails, and feces aren’t moved through the LG, the result is constipation. There are two general categories of CC; they are excess and deficiency.
Excess type CC involves the accumulation of heat, and / or Qi stagnation in the LI. This can occur from improper diet, depression, anger or frustration, which causes Liver congestion. The Liver may overact on the Stomach and Spleen causing the inhibition of LI Qi and its ability to descend feces for elimination. Heat can also build up in the Stomach from a spicy diet or overindulgence of alcohol, which can damage the Qi mechanism of the LI, and allow for the accumulation of heat. If Qi stagnates for a long period of time, it can transform into heat (fire), which can dry up all the fluids in the intestines causing hard and dry stool.
In deficiency type CC the intestines can become dehydrated. This can occur due to a deficiency of Yang Qi, which is responsible for the metabolic heat that warms the bodies fluids and provides the moisture needed in the intestines to move the feces. Yang Qi can become damaged from the consumption of cold and raw foods, especially raw vegetables, or the use of bitter & cold herbs. Once Yang becomes deficient, then cold can arise and congeal in the intestines causing blockages. Another type of deficiency is blood deficiency, which is more common in the elderly, because Yang Qi naturally becomes deficient in old age. Deficiency of Qi, Yin (fluids), and blood can also come about after a severe illness or after giving birth. Diabetes can also damage Yin (fluids).
For CC a combination of acupuncture and herbs are used to restore normalcy to bowel movements, and lifestyle modifications are recommended to prevent future recurrences. These modifications can be as simple as adding fiber to the diet, increasing physical activity, and maintaining sufficient hydration.