Preparing for your appointmentBy Mayo Clinic staff
You'll likely first seek medical care for constipation from your family doctor or general practitioner. You may be referred to a specialist in digestive disorders (gastroenterologist) if your doctor suspects a more advanced case of constipation.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restricting your diet or eating certain high-fiber foods to prepare for diagnostic testing.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to constipation.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes, such as traveling or becoming pregnant.
- Make a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins, supplements or herbal medications, that you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to absorb all the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important, in case time runs out. For constipation, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- Are there other possible causes for my symptoms or condition?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- What treatment approach do you recommend?
- What other treatment options exist?
- How soon do you expect my symptoms to improve with treatment?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Should I see a gastroenterologist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow more time to go over additional questions you may have. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you begin experiencing symptoms of constipation?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Do your symptoms include abdominal pain?
- Do your symptoms include vomiting?
- Have you recently lost weight without trying?
- Do you see blood with your bowel movements mixed in with the stool, in the toilet water or on the toilet paper?
- Do you strain with your bowel movements?
- Do you have any family history of digestive problems or colon cancer?
- Have you been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
- Have you started any new medications or recently changed the dosage of your current medications?
What you can do in the meantime
Be aware that certain diagnostic tests may require advance preparation. For example, people undergoing marker studies will need to eat a high-fiber diet while abstaining from laxatives for a certain period of time before the test. Consult your doctor for specific instructions before an office visit.
- Constipation. National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/constipation/. Accessed Dec. 16, 2010.
- Lembo AJ, et al. Constipation. In: Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-6189-2..X0001-7--TOP&isbn=978-1-4160-6189-2&about=true&uniqId=229935664-2192. Accessed Dec. 16, 2010.
- Wald A. Etiology and evaluation of chronic constipation in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Dec. 16, 2010.
- Wald A. Management of chronic constipation in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Dec. 16, 2010.
- Constipation. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec02/ch008/ch008b.html . Accessed Dec. 16, 2010.
- Hass DJ. Complementary and alternative medicine. In: Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-6189-2..X0001-7--TOP&isbn=978-1-4160-6189-2&about=true&uniqId=229935664-2192. Accessed Dec. 16, 2010.
- How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html. Accessed Dec. 16, 2010.
- Picco MF (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 20, 2010.