What should I expect when I talk to my doctor about my constipation?

Talking to your doctor – or anyone – about your bowel movements (or lack of them) is not the most pleasant of topics. Know that your doctor is there for you. Doctors are trained health professionals who have discussed just about every health topic you can think of with their patients.

Your doctor will first ask you questions about your medical history, bowel movements, and your lifestyle and routines.

Medical history

These questions may include:

  • What are your current and past diseases/health conditions?
  • Have you lost or gained any weight recently?
  • Have you had any previous digestive tract surgeries?
  • What medications and supplements do you take for other disorders and for the relief of constipation?
  • Does anyone in your family have constipation or diseases of the digestive tract or a history of colon cancer?
  • Have you had a colonoscopy?

Bowel movement history

These questions may include:

  • How often do you have a bowel movement?
  • What do your stools look like?
  • Have you noticed any blood or red streaks in your stool?
  • Have you ever seen blood in the toilet bowl or on the toilet paper after you wipe?

Lifestyle habits and routines

  • What food and beverages do you eat and drink?
  • What is your exercise routine?

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam, which includes a check of your vital signs (temperature, pulse, blood pressure). He or she will use a stethoscope to listen to the sounds in your abdomen. Your abdomen will also be touched to check for pain, tenderness, swelling, and lumps.

Be aware that your doctor will also perform a rectal exam. This is a finger exam of the inside of your rectum. It’s a quick check for any masses or problems that can be felt by finger.

What lab tests and other medical tests may be done to find the cause of my constipation?

Your doctor can order no tests or many types of tests and procedures. The decision of which ones your doctor might order for you depends on your symptoms, medical history, and overall health.

Lab tests: Blood and urine tests reveal signs of hypothyroidism, anemia, and diabetes. A stool sample checks for signs of infection, inflammation, and cancer.

Imaging tests: Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or lower gastrointestinal tract series may be ordered to identify other problems that could be causing your constipation.

Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy– an internal view of your colon with a scope – may be performed. During this procedure, a small sample of tissue (biopsy) may be taken to test for cancer or other problems and any found polyps will be removed.

Colorectal transit studies: These tests involve consuming a small dose of a radioactive substance, either in pill form or in a meal, and then tracking both the amount of time and how the substance moves through your intestines.

Other bowel function tests: Your doctor may order tests that check how well your anus and rectum hold and release stool. These tests include a certain type of x-ray (defecography), done to rule out causes of outlet dysfunction constipation, and the insertion of a small balloon into the rectum (balloon expulsion test and anorectal manometry).

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/07/2019.

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