Constipation Advice

A Constipated Digestive System

The following animated diagram demonstrates what happens at each stage of the digestive process in a constipated digestive system. Simply click on the forward arrow to reveal the process in order, or click on the body part name to explain its individual function. The stopwatch indicates the length of time each stage takes. In the constipated system, the whole process can take over 60 hours from start to finish.

The Constipated System
Food ideally passes through the entire digestive tract within a couple of days but as human beings we are all different and this "transit time" can vary tremendously from person to person. Transit time can also be influenced by the type of food and drink we consume and on other factors as well. Opening the bowels (defecating) on a regular basis is important although there are no hard and fast rules as to how often this should be. However, when an individual's normal bowel routine is altered, and is accompanied by dry, hard stools, it is more than likely that the individual is suffering from constipation.

Mouth
Food enters the body via the mouth where it is chewed. This action helps to break up the food enabling it to be swallowed and enter the oesophagus. The chewing action also releases enzymes which help to break down the food in preparation for the digestion process.

Oesophagus (Gullet)
Otherwise known as the gullet or food pipe, is the first section of the digestive tract which conveys ingested food and drink from the mouth to the stomach. This is partially under the effect of gravity but also as a result of the continuous contraction and relaxation of the muscular wall of the oesophagus, a process known as peristalsis.

Stomach
Is a muscular j-shaped "bag" which acts as a receptacle for food and fluids after ingestion. Food is then churned around and mixed with gastric juices, a mixture of acid, enzymes and other materials, which starts to break down food into smaller particles in order to make digestion easier. The stomach enzymes in particular are responsible for the breakdown and digestion of proteins.

Small Intestine
This is, in fact, the longest section of the digestive tract and consists of the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum. The small intestine is very important as it is the major site of digestion of food and subsequent absorption of essential nutrients which the body needs to function efficiently.

Large Intestine (Colon)
As waste material passes through the colon it becomes progressively drier and forms into stools (faeces). These are moved along the colon and into the rectum by the continuous rhythmical contraction and relaxation of the muscles in the wall of the colon, a process known as peristalsis. In constipation this normal rhythm may be affected by different factors resulting in the slowing down of the movement of stools through the colon. Consequently more water is absorbed from the stools and into the bloodstream than would normally occur. As a result the stools become drier and harder in the lower end of the colon and rectum and are therefore more difficult to pass out of the body.

Rectum
This is essentially a storage reservoir at the end of the large intestine and adjacent to the anus for accumulating the faeces prior to elimination from the body.

Anus
The opening at the end of the digestive tract which allows waste matter to pass through into the outside world.

Click here to find out how you can treat constipation.


What is constipation?
Common symptoms and causes
Treating Constipation
Why constipation should not be ignored
The Digestive System
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the digestive process
Health Assessment
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Pregnancy Constipation?
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Constipation Advice
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