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Do you need surgery for constipation?

6 years ago

There was an article in the Daily Mail this week about a woman who had undergone surgery to help relieve her constipation.  She had been suffering with chronic constipation for several years that left her in pain and with severe bloating, and sometimes even in hospital where she was given powerful laxatives and enemas to relieve the discomfort. 

According to the article, her GP referred her to a specialist who prescribed more laxatives, and a dietician to have a look at her diet to try and relieve the constipation, but with little success. So eventually the patient was referred to a consultant colorectol surgeon on the NHS in 2008 where she underwent a procedure called sacral nerve stimulation, whereby they implant electrodes and a battery in the back to stimulate the nerves controlling the bowel and therefore keep things moving, preventing build-up and constipation. 

It took a few weeks for the electrodes to start to work effectively, and caused a mild tingling sensation, but now the patient is reported to be largely free of constipation as she controls the battery and turns up the power as required.

So, do you need surgery?

Operating theatre

Personally, I think this is an extreme case of constipation and one that should be treated with caution.

Any surgical procedure in the first instance carries risk, and it would be imperative to check with your GP that you are a suitable candidate - as so many other factors need to be taken into account such as your weight, any medication you are on and any pre-existing medical condition that you may be suffering from.

Surgery is also a last resort for constipation as all it does is addresses the symptoms and not the cause. In the case of the woman in this article, she believes that her constipation was caused by stress and a poor diet, as she had tried lots of different fad diets in order to lose weight.  These likely played havoc on her digestive system, which was arguably not being looked after or fed properly, and which therefore may have caused a sluggish bowel. 

Now that this patient has had the surgical procedure, the article does not comment on how her diet is but I would hope that she is still following a high fibre diet and drinking lots of water to help prevent her constipation rather than relying on the electrodes to do the work for her as this would be a poor approach to her health and could have longer term side effects - a sluggish bowel can cause more than just constipation.

What should you do then if you have chronic constipation?

Fruit and veg

1. You must always try and look for the cause.  

By starting at the cause, whether it's from stress, diet, medication, or other factors, only then can you truly start to address the symptoms of constipation and make changes to your diet and lifestyle that keep constipation away and your digestive system in tip top condition.

2. Ensure that you are eating a good diet that is high in fibre. 

Take a look at the blogpost I wrote recently, on 'Foods that can cause constipation' and 'These foods can relieve constipation' as well as lots of other useful blog posts around fibre, and specific foods or herbs, such as prunes, which will all help you address your diet and relieve your constipation.

3. Drink lots of water. 

Staying hydrated is crucial to help prevent constipation as it keeps moisture in your bowel and in your stools to ensure everything stays fluid and moving, thereby preventing build-up and dry, hard stools which are difficult to pass. Read more in 'The importance of water' - this includes tips for incorporating more water in your daily routine. 

4. Take a probiotic. 

Probiotics are friendly bacteria which help to keep your digestive system healthy and have proven benefits in digestive conditions including constipation.  Especially if you take one that is well researched particularly in this area.  Find out more about probiotics in 'The benefits of probiotics and prebiotics'.

5. Keep moving!

Exercise is important in treating constipation as it helps to keep everything moving.  Exercise allows the bowels and food waste and matter to pass more effectively through the intestines preventing everything slowing down, which in turn would mean that stools become hard and dry and that's when things start to back up and you become constipated.


Finally, the important thing to try and remember is to be patient. This can be very difficult if you are suffering with constipation and are in pain or discomfort, but digestive health problems can take time to heal in the long-term, as the problem may have started years ago (for example a high strength course of antibiotics many years ago may have upset your body's natural gut flora.  Hence it takes time to repair and heal.  By following a good diet and exercise plan it will help to get you back on track but you may also want to work with a nutritionist or your GP on other measures to tackling your constipation.

Surgery should then only be considered after you have explored ALL other options.

Read more about Natural Remedies for constipation here.



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