Diagnosing constipation can often be done through a medical history and physical exam. However, for older people or those with severe symptoms, more extensive testing may be necessary. In these cases, tests such as anorectal function tests, a barium x-ray, or colonoscopy can be helpful in diagnosing constipation.
Extensive testing is usally not necessary for diagnosing constipation, and in most cases, the condition can be treated with changes in diet and exercise. For example, young people with mild symptoms may only require a medical history and physical examination; in many cases, this is all the doctor needs to put them on a course of successful treatment. If the doctor decides to perform tests, they will depend on:
- The duration and severity of the constipation
- The person's age
- Whether blood in the stool, recent changes in bowel movements, or weight loss have occurred.
As part of a medical history, the doctor may ask a patient to describe his or her constipation, including:
- Duration of symptoms
- Frequency of bowel movements
- Consistency of stools
- Presence of blood in the stool
- Toilet habits (how often and where one has bowel movements).
Keeping a record of your eating habits, medication, and level of physical activity or exercise will also help the doctor determine the cause of constipation.
The clinical definition of constipation is any two of the following symptoms for at least 12 weeks (not necessarily consecutive) in the previous 12 months:
- Straining during bowel movements
- Lumpy or hard stool
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation
- Sensation of blockage/obstruction in the anus or rectum
- Fewer than three bowel movements per week.