A Guide to Chronic Idiopathic Constipation

Medically Reviewed By Youssef (Joe) Soliman, MD

Chronic idiopathic constipation is a long-term condition with an unknown cause. Treatment may help alleviate symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Some cases of chronic idiopathic constipation become serious. However, treatment and management can help you pass bowel movements more easily and reduce the risks of complications.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of chronic idiopathic constipation.

Key facts about chronic idiopathic constipation

  • Chronic idiopathic constipation is a bowel condition that lasts a long time and without an apparent cause.
  • Symptoms can include passing stool infrequently, pain or difficulty when passing a bowel movement, and dry or hard stools.
  • Treatment options such as medication, fiber supplements, and pelvic floor therapy may help stop or improve your constipation.

Symptoms of chronic idiopathic constipation

Someone holds a medication bottle while sitting in front of a laptop.
Photography by Maria Korneeva/Getty Images

Constipation means passing stool is difficult or incomplete, or your bowel movements may be infrequent.

Other symptoms of chronic idiopathic constipation include:

  • passing stool fewer than 3 times a week or less frequently than usual
  • passing stool that is either unusually large or small
  • passing stool that seems dry, hard, or lumpy
  • straining or pain when passing stool
  • feeling like you haven’t fully passed all stool
  • stomach pain
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • decreased appetite

Sometimes, constipation causes anal fissures Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source — small tears or sores in the large intestine and the anus. Fissures may lead to:

  • sharp or burning pain during and after bowel movements
  • blood in the stool or on toilet paper

When to see a doctor

Contact a doctor promptly for new, persistent, or severe symptoms of constipation.

Some symptoms may require immediate care. Talk with a doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms with constipation:

Causes and risk factors of chronic idiopathic constipation

Experts are unsure what causes chronic idiopathic constipation.

Factors that typically contribute Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to the development of constipation include:

  • genetics
  • low fiber consumption
  • low fluid intake and dehydration
  • lack of physical activity
  • hormone imbalances
  • medication side effects
  • problems affecting body structure, such as an intestinal blockage

Learn more about constipation, including its causes and prevention.

Diagnosing chronic idiopathic constipation

There is no test for chronic idiopathic constipation. Instead, your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and family medical history. They may also conduct a physical exam.

Your medical team may also test for possible causes or rule out other conditions, such as:

Treatment options for chronic idiopathic constipation

The cause of chronic idiopathic constipation is unknown, but treatment can relieve your symptoms.

Prescription medications

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), medications that may help chronic idiopathic constipation include:

The medications increase the frequency of bowel movements and help the colon move stool.

Laxatives

There are many types of laxatives, such as stool softeners, lubricants, and stimulants. Your doctor can advise on the best option for you.

Some options may be available over the counter. Always talk with a doctor or pharmacist before trying new medications or remedies, even if they are available without a prescription.

Pelvic floor rehabilitation

Pelvic floor rehabilitation involves specific exercises to improve control of the bowel and bladder muscles.

Clinicians may also include biofeedback during rehabilitation. Biofeedback involves placing a small device in the rectum before doing pelvic floor exercises. The device is linked to a monitor that provides feedback to help you learn how and when to strengthen and relax your muscles.

Nerve stimulation

If other therapies do not treat your constipation, doctors may consider sacral nerve stimulation.

With sacral nerve stimulation, clinicians use gentle electrical pulses to stimulate the pelvic nerves to improve bowel function. To do this, a surgeon places a small electrode under the skin in the lower back. Afterward, you will use a handheld device to control the electrical pulses.

However, one 2017 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source reported that only a small number of people experienced long-term benefits from sacral nerve modulation for chronic constipation. Also, surgery may not be suitable for everyone.

Read more about treatment options for chronic constipation.

Diet and management options for chronic idiopathic constipation

Self-care approaches may also improve symptoms of chronic idiopathic constipation, such as:

  • getting regular physical activity
  • getting enough fiber — either through your diet or supplementation
  • asking your doctor about over-the-counter (OTC) options, such as fiber supplements or stool softeners
  • drinking enough fluids, especially if you have a higher fiber intake

The proper fiber and fluid intake can vary widely. A doctor or registered dietitian can offer advice about your daily targets.

Read more about fiber intake levels and foods highest in fiber.

If you take medications or supplements, be sure to tell your doctor. Some medications can cause constipation as a side effect. Do not stop taking medications or supplements a doctor has recommended without consulting them first.

Learn more about remedies to help with constipation.

Complications of chronic idiopathic constipation

Chronic or severe constipation sometimes leads to complications Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , such as:

Treatment and self-care may help reduce the risk of complications.

Outlook of chronic idiopathic constipation

The cause of chronic idiopathic constipation is unknown, and there is currently no cure.

However, many treatment options can reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and reduce the risk of complications.

Still, finding the best treatment for you may take some trial and error.

Talk with a doctor for advice about treatment for the best outcome with chronic idiopathic constipation.

Summary

Chronic idiopathic constipation is a long-term bowel condition without an unknown cause. Symptoms can include:

  • difficulty passing stool
  • anal fissures
  • stomach pain

Treatment for chronic idiopathic constipation can include:

  • a high fiber and fluid intake
  • laxatives
  • medications
  • pelvic floor therapy
  • nerve stimulation
  • regular physical activity
Was this helpful?
2

Medical Reviewer: Youssef (Joe) Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2024 Apr 8
View All Digestive Health Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.