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Q: Are there surgical treatments for constipation?

A: Constipation can mean infrequent bowel movements or decrease in the volume of stool, straining to have a movement, a sense of incomplete evacuation or the need for laxatives in order to have a bowel movement (BM).

About 80% of people suffer from constipation at some time during their lives; occasional constipation is normal. The assumption that everyone should have a BM every day has led to overuse of laxatives.

Constipation can be caused by inadequate fiber and fluid intake, sedentary lifestyle and some medications, including painkillers, iron and calcium supplements and aluminum-containing antacids. It may be aggravated by travel, pregnancy or change in diet. More serious causes of constipation include narrowing in the colon, so see your doctor if constipation persists more than three weeks.

The majority of constipation is successfully treated with a high-fiber diet (fruits and vegetables) and increasing hydration. Your doctor may prescribe an over-the-counter or prescription laxative. If these fail, the colon can be assessed for slow motility, called "colonic inertia." This can be treated surgically by removing the colon and attaching the small bowel to the rectum so that the patient can eliminate through the anus. This can be performed laparoscopically or robotically by a colorectal surgeon.

Dr. Shauna Lorenzo-Rivero is a colorectal surgeon at University Surgical Associates and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

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Dr. Shauna Lorenzo-Rivero
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