Health News | When is constipation a medical emergency?

Constipation is mostly a short-term problem that can be resolved at home, but it’s important to know when it requires emergency care.

Faeces can become hardened and lodged in the rectum. This is the most severe outcome of constipation and can be linked to complications such as bleeding and bowel obstruction.

Bowel obstruction occurs when your small or large intestine becomes partially or fully blocked. The stretching of the intestines can cause pain, a rupture and bleeding, requiring urgent medical attention.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the number of visits to emergency units in America hospitals has increased over the past decade and there is an increasing trend towards hospital visits with constipation-related complications. 

When you experience the following symptoms, you should seek immediate medical assistance: 

1. When you have unbearable abdominal pain

When your constipation is coupled with crippling abdominal pain, this might be the symptom of a larger issue such as appendicitis or a bowel obstruction, which definitely requires a trip to the ER, according to Robynne Chutkan, a gastroenterologist in Maryland, USA, as reported by Women’s Health.

woman with severe abdominal pain

2. When you are vomiting

Vomiting when you are constipated could possibly be a sign of faecal impaction, where the stool in the blocked colon can’t be moved, according to Harvard Medical School. The backed up waste can cause vomiting. This is extremely dangerous and requires urgent medical attention.  

woman vomiting in toilet

3. When your stomach is severely bloated

Painful bloating of the stomach can also be a sign of a serious bowel obstruction. Bloating caused by constipation can often be treated at home and might clear up in time. However, if your bloating doesn’t clear up, it could be bowel obstruction or blockage.

runner holding stomach

4. When there is blood in your stool

The presence of blood in your stool is not always reason to panic. According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, there are several minor causes of rectal bleeding, such as fissures, haemorrhoids, rectal ulcers or rectal inflammation.

But if you are constipated and discover that the stools you do pass are tarry and maroon in colour, it requires urgent medical care, states the Cleveland Clinic.

man holding toilet paper

5. When your constipation has lasted for longer than two weeks

According to the Cleveland Clinic, any case of constipation lasting for longer than two weeks without relief from home remedies or changes in diet should be checked out by a doctor. If your stools become lodged in the rectum, it can lead to faecal incontinence, which will occur when mucus or fluids leak around the stools.

Chronic constipation can also cause your health in general to take a knock. When you suffer from chronic constipation, you are unable to get rid of excess waste that builds up in your colon. This can end up making you sick as your intestines will become overloaded, not allowing your body to absorb crucial nutrients.

Image credit: iStock | How your mucus can be a guide to sinusitis treatment

Chronic sinusitis can be extremely painful, and those with the condition may feel sick for weeks and find it difficult to participate in everyday life or complete simple tasks.  

According to a recently published Vanderbilt University study, a person’s nasal mucus could provide vital information to predict the type of chronic sinusitis, which could ultimately assist doctors in determining whether surgery or medical treatments will be the most effective. 

What does the research entail and what does this mean for the future treatment of chronic sinusitis? 

What is chronic sinusitis? 

The sinuses are hollow, moist spaces that drain through the nose. When the sinuses are prevented from draining due to either an infection or allergic reaction, fluid and mucus remain trapped. This results in the inflammation and irritation of the sinuses, which is referred to as sinusitis.

Chronic sinusitis is sinusitis that lasts for a long time, usually longer than three months. People with asthma and allergies are usually more vulnerable to chronic sinusitis. There are various types of sinusitis: 

  • Acute sinusitis: typically lasts up to a month
  • Sub-acute sinusitis: longer than one month 
  • Chronic sinusitis: longer than three months

While chronic sinusitis lasts longer than acute sinusitis, the symptoms are the same and include: A cough, thick nasal mucus, post-nasal drip, headaches, fever, congestion, facial pain and swelling. 

However, chronic sinusitis sufferers may also develop nasal polyps, which are growths on the tissue of the nose and sinuses, resulting in difficulty breathing. 

Biological markers

The study, published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunologycollected and analysed the mucus of patients by simply putting a small medical grade sponge into the nostrils of the patients. The mucus was then analysed for cytokines, small secreted proteins that allow cells to talk to each other. The cytokine profiles were found to determine six different clusters of chronic sinusitis patients.

Dr Justin Turner, associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and the study’s lead author, speaking to Vanderbilt University News, said it is the first study to use biological markers to identify endotypes of chronic sinusitis. “The problem is that those patients tend to have very different responses to surgery,” he said.

What becomes apparent is the reasoning behind the study, to identify which patients will have better outcomes ahead of the time. “Some patients may be better served with surgery, others with medical treatment,” Dr Turner explained. 

“When we look at the postoperative outcomes for those patients, which we assess through a quality of life measure that assesses patient symptom burden, we find that at one year follow up, patients in certain clusters do much better than patients in other clusters,” Dr Turner said.

Future of chronic sinusitis treatment 

According to Dr Turner, the findings should pave the way for more personalised medication and treatment options for chronic sinusitis patients, instead of the one-size-fits-all option that is currently in use.

Presently, chronic sinusitis patients are examined to determine how much previous treatment they have undergone and are then administered courses of anti-inflammatory medications such as antibiotics. Only once this has taken place the surgical options are explained to the patient. 

“In theory, going forward, this is something that could be used in a point-of-care fashion before making a decision to take a patient to surgery. Perhaps some patients may do better with continued medical therapy, or with biologic medications.” Dr Turner emphasised. 

Image credit: iStock | Do you know as much about your period as you think you do?

In a perfect world, your period would be but a blip on your radar – you’d get it at the same time each month, be just slightly uncomfortable for a week, tops, and then go about the rest of your 21 days unbothered and period-free.

But a perfect world, this is not (as if you needed that reminder); periods can be unpredictable and messy at best, and totally mind-boggling and life-altering at worst. Even more: They’re different for all women, so the concept of “normal” goes out the window.

That’s why it’s so important to know what’s normal for you – and the first part of that is knowing what is going on down there to begin with. So, it’s time to test your knowledge and maybe (definitely) learn a few things

Let’s start with something that seems to stump everyone: Can you get pregnant on your period?

Answer: It’s unlikely that you’ll get pregnant after having sex on your period, but it’s not totally impossible. Theoretically, if you ovulate within days of having unprotected sex, there’s a chance that sperm (which can survive in the vagina for up to five days) will hook up with an egg and, well, you know the rest.

Read more: 6 times your period blood looks different – and what it means about your health

How long can (or should you) leave a tampon in?

Answer: Unless you want to up your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS), you need to change that thing at least every eight hours, says Dr Diana Hoppe, a gynae based in Encinitas, California. True, TSS is super rare, but if you have your period, can’t remember the last time you changed your tampon and start feeling any flu-like symptoms (fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, rash), get to the ER as soon as possible.

Is it safe to use birth control to skip your period?

Answer: That’s actually a trick question. That blood you see during your week of sugar (or placebo) pills isn’t actually a period at all – it’s actually a hormone withdrawal bleed, says Dr Lauren Streicher, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and author of SexRx. So you’re already skipping your period by taking birth control. But yes, you can skip that placebo week if you want to forego the faux flow, Dr Streicher says.

Here’s a tricky one: Does your period mark the beginning or the end of your menstrual cycle?

Answer: The first day of your period is also day one of your 28-day menstrual cycle. That lasts for about four to eight days; about a week later, on day 14-ish, a woman begins ovulating (that’s when you’re most likely to get pregnant). On days 15 to 24, the newly released egg starts travelling down the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where, if it’s not fertilised by day 28, it breaks apart and leaves the body (along with your built-up uterine lining). Then you’re back at day one.

Read more: How to tell the difference between period blood and spotting

Is it normal to see blood clots in your period blood?

Answer: Not every woman gets blood clots during her period, but it’s not unusual to see a few, says Susan Wysocki, a nurse practitioner and board member of the American Sexual Health Association. “Our bodies are engineered in a way that blood, with the help of internal chemicals, clots so that we don’t bleed to death,” she says. Some of those “clots” could also be uterine tissue that wasn’t properly broken down, she adds. But, if you regularly see clots the size of a 20c piece or bigger, it’s time to see a doctor – those could signal a more serious problem like uterine fibroids, hormone-related issues, or other illnesses.

Are awful period cramps (like, ones that keep you home from work or school) a normal part of having a period?

Answer: Some cramping is, unfortunately, to be expected during your period (thanks to prostaglandins – hormone-like substances that trigger uterine muscle contractions to help you shed your lining, per the Mayo Clinic). But super painful cramps that disrupt your life each month may be a sign of something more serious like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.

Can hanging out with your BFF all the time make your periods sync up?

Answer: There’s no hard-and-fast, yes-or-no answer here, but some research (specifically a 1971 study published in the journal Nature suggests it is possible for women to sync up, thanks to odourless chemicals called pheromones. Another possible reason you can sync up with your BFF: People living in close proximity may have similar diets, exercise routines, sleep/wake cycles and shared stressors that can impact menstruation, says Dr Alyssa Dweck, a gynae at the Mount Kisco Medical Group and author of V Is for Vagina.

Read more: This is the reason why you fart more on your period

Is it true that a missed period always means you’re pregnant?

Answer: Yep, there are tons of reasons you have a late (or missed) period that have nothing to do with something growing inside of you, says Dr Dweck. Those include major weight loss or excessive exercise, stress, a thyroid irregularity, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), your birth control, premature menopause and other chronic illnesses like celiac disease.

This article was originally published on

Image credit: iStock | 7 times your vagina hurts during sex – and what the pain means

Sex and pleasure are part of a package deal – it feels good, and that’s one of the reasons we keep doing it! But recent research shows 30% of women are experiencing pain during the act. Though the hurt could be a symptom of a serious issue such as endometriosis, more often the cause is less grave.

“Most conditions that cause painful intercourse are very treatable,” says Dr Debby Herbenick, author of Sex Made Easy. Read on to find sex-wrecking culprits and their cures.

1. It feels like his penis is made of sandpaper

Vaginal dryness. “A lack of lubrication is hands down the most common cause of painful sex,” says Dr Herbenick. Certain medication – including the Pill, antidepressants, some allergy and cold meds – can stop your juices from flowing. So ditch the pre-sex soak in a warm bath, which dries out vaginal tissue.

Read more: 4 common reasons why you’re suffering from vaginal dryness

Apply a dollop of water-based lubricant to your girl parts during foreplay. A US study found that women who used lube while doing the deed reported significantly less pain and – bonus! – much higher levels of satisfaction.

Opt for positions that allow you to control the pacing (like woman on top) and stop to reapply if needed. Still in pain? If only certain positions are hurting you, common causes are constipation, muscle spasms, endometriosis, cysts or other organic causes, says WH sex expert Dr Elna Rudolph.

2. Your genitals itch and penetration makes it feel worse

Though various conditions can lead to itchiness, the most common cause is a yeast infection, which may result from taking antibiotics. Research also suggests a link between lots of oral sex and recurrent yeast infections; women who suffer from the condition are three times as likely to be on the receiving end of frequent oral loving. However, this is rare, according to Dr Rudolph. “Likely offenders are scented bubble baths, lubes and harmful activities like douching,” she says.

Read more: How much vaginal discharge is normal?

If you think you have a yeast infection, use an over-the-counter treatment, says Dr Rudolph. “If it’s not better within five days, see your gynae and have her take a vaginal swab,” she says. Keep getting that itch? It’s okay to use an OTC treatment up to five times a year – if you need it more often, have another swab taken.

“You may have a resistant infection, or it may not be a yeast infection at all,” says Dr Rudolph. “Conditions like lichen sclerosus also cause itching, and it’s harmful to treat it as a yeast infection.”

3. It seems as if he’s going to burst through your cervix

No, he’s not too big for you. You’re probably just rushing things. “If you’re sufficiently aroused, ‘ballooning’ of the vagina takes place,” says Dr Rudolph. “The uterus is pulled up into the abdomen and the muscles around the vagina relax, creating space for him.”

Read more: 7 cervical cancer symptoms you should absolutely never ignore

Don’t skimp on the pre-game warm-up. Most women need 20 minutes of foreplay to make sure their parts are ready for action. Simply adding lube isn’t a good short cut. “It might make entry easier, but it won’t change the length or shape of your vagina,” says Dr Herbenick.

Still uncomfortable? “It shouldn’t be painful if a penis hits a healthy cervix,” adds Dr Rudolph. If you still feel there isn’t enough space, see your gynae.

4. Post-baby nooky leaves you achy and raw

New moms, especially those who are breastfeeding, can experience plummeting oestrogen levels that leave the vagina drier than the Sahara and the vaginal walls prone to tearing. Scar tissue on a poorly healed episiotomy can also cause penetration woes.

Read more: The 5 best sex positions for after you have a baby

Take a break from intercourse. Many women aren’t physically ready for three months or longer, says obstetrics gynaecologist Dr Elizabeth Stewart. But don’t cut down on intimacy altogether, says Dr Rudolph. Start by using a finger and then try penetration – with plenty of lube.

5. It feels as if shards of glass are cutting up your outer vagina

Provoked vestibulodynia – a problem thought to involve the pelvic muscles, fascia and nerves.

If it’s mild, your doctor can prescribe Remicaine jelly or Emla cream containing a local anaesthetic, says Dr Rudolph. Once your gynae has ruled out obvious causes like infections, see somebody who specialises in genital pain. “Management will be a combo of medical treatment, physiotherapy and, in some cases, psychological interventions.”

6. Your vagina clamps shut when he tries to enter

Vaginismus. This painful but treatable condition causes the muscles at the entrance to the vagina to spasm at penetration, making intercourse all but impossible.

Read more: Two gynae-approved ways to tell if your vagina is too weak or too tight

Vaginismus is the fear of penetration associated with involuntary muscle spasm, and treatment involves overcoming the fear, learning to control the pelvic floor muscles and stretching them sufficiently to allow penetration, says Dr Rudolph. Stretching exercises begin with tiny objects like ear buds, moving on to a pencil, small tampon and vaginal dilators.

Your doctor might also prescribe sex therapy, psychotherapy and pelvic-floor physiotherapy to break down muscle knots through massage. Botox also works to relax overactive vaginal muscles, but it’s still experimental.

7. You get an itchy, hive-like rash around your vulva after sex

An allergic reaction, probably due to latex condoms or your lube. Choose plain condoms with no flavourants, and water or silicone-based lube. If it’s still a problem, see a doctor.

This article was originally published on

Image credit: iStock 

NEXT ON HEALTH24X | #Health24 ICYMI: Plastic surgery to look like a star; the man who has donated blood 725 times; and how readers quit smoking

Life gets busy and as much as we want to, we can’t always keep up with the news. 

No worries! We have gathered the top stories of Health24 for this week. And it’s a mixed bag: From plastic surgery to blood facts to quitting milk. 

Pick of the week

SEE: How plastic surgery has evolved

A practice dating back as far as 6th century BC, the plastic surgery field of medicine has grown and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. 

This video will take you inside the industry, especially people obsession to want “famous faces”. 

Blood, blood, blood! 

Thursday 14 June was World Blood Donor Day and we featured several articles highlighting why it is so important to donate blood. 

Lifesavers: Meet two of SA’s most prolific blood donors

Meet Mike O’Neill and David Schreuder, two of South Africa’s true heroes, who have saved countless lives with their blood donations. Mike has donated blood 725 times and David 674 times. 

SEE: How much do you know about blood?

Blood is essential for life and there’s more to this red substance than you may think… We have compiled an infographic with some of the most important facts.blood, blood SA

Personal experiences

We had two stories that stood out this week: In both cases people opened up about their struggles and we got the wiser for it. Readers gave us their tips for quitting smoking, while one of Health24’s writers Mandy Freeman opened up about her battle with acne and what happened when she stopped drinking milk. 

7 readers reveal how they quit smoking

Smoking is a difficult habit to give up. Anyone who has tried will know it’s not easy.

But what’s clear is that it is possible. We put it out to our readers and here’s what helped them quit. 

I had acne and then stopped drinking milk – this is what happened’

Health24 writer Mandy Freeman gave up drinking milk – and a few weeks later she noticed some surprising results.

And finally…

3 ways to boost your memory

Whether you’re studying for an important exam or learning a new language, there’s convincing proof that nonstop cramming sessions may not translate into the long-term memory retention you want.

Follow our step-by-step guide on how you can make the most of your study sessions and ace that exam.

NEXT ON HEALTH24X | SURVEY: Which of these bizarre allergies do you suffer from?

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.