Harvard Men's Health Watch

Chronic constipation: A strain for men

When the topic of guts comes up in the locker room, most men are talking about courage on the field, not results in the bathroom. Bowel function is not a "guy thing," but chronic constipation sure is, particularly for older men. Here are some things you should know about a topic you may never talk about outside your doctor's office.

Normal intestinal function

Food and fluids start their long tour through your intestinal tract by passing rapidly through your mouth and food pipe (esophagus) into your stomach. The stomach muscles relax to accommodate your meal, but within about 20 minutes fluids move into the small intestine, and solids follow a few minutes later.

Although the process starts in the mouth and stomach, most of the digestive process occurs in the small intestine. As nutrients and fluids are absorbed into the bloodstream, the intestinal contents become more compact and denser. The walls of the intestine contain muscles that contract rhythmically to propel the intestinal contents onward. A large network of nerves coordinates these contractions, and various hormones help regulate the process. In healthy men, the average meal spends about six hours passing through the 20-foot-long small intestine.

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