( Originally Published 1938 )
Atonic constipation has for its immediate cause sluggishness of the muscles of the intestine. Spastic constipation, on the other hand, is brought about by a spasm or constriction of the muscles. The former type is the commoner one and is the type which concerns us. However, since nervousness is a state which is met with more and more frequently and since slenderness or actual thinness is considered beautiful and therefore is the goal of many persons, particularly women, this latter type is becoming more frequent. It seems wise, therefore, to pause here and say a few words about spastic constipation.
Spastic constipation is caused by spasmodic contractions of the circle muscle fibers of the intestine so that sections of the bowel may be contracted to such an extent that the passage may be no bigger than a little finger. Hence the food residue is temporarily blocked. When the fecal matter is finally passed, it is very acidy and usually has an offensive odor.
This condition frequently results from a hyper-sensitive nervous state and is often found in women of a hysterical, neurasthenic disposition, and those suffering from pelvic disturbances. It may, however, be found in normal persons when they are in a state of nervousness or when they have eaten some harsh, irritating foods. Persons of slender build are apt to be nervous and tense and to have intestines that are hypersensitive and easily irritated. They are more likely to suffer from spastic constipation than persons of a heavier build and an easy going disposition. How-ever, anyone may acquire this type of constipation when under undue nervous strain, or as a result of chronic irritation of the colon, and sometimes after ulcerated colitis and chronic dysentery.
Spastic constipation, unlike atonic, is usually intermittent in nature. Sometimes the intervening periods are normal as far as elimination is concerned, and at other times the constipation alternates with periods of diarrhoea. The attacks are generally brought on by the eating of some food that is harsh or rough in texture, or in some way irritating to delicate, sensitive intestines. Naturally such foods are more likely to bring on an attack of this type of constipation when one is nervous and unstable.
Rest and relaxation and the removal of the psychic influences which are causing the nervousness are necessary for the cure of spastic constipation. The diet must be smooth and bland milk, eggs, custards, cream soups, bread, fats and thoroughly cooked cereals are in order. On the other hand, the diet should contain sufficient fiber. This may be obtained from thoroughly' cooked fruits and vegetables put through a sieve or finely minced.
We are in absolute accord with modem thought that every individual should be examined by his physician periodically in order that important underlying causes for various symptoms may not be overlooked especially where prolonged pain and bleeding are present. Careful and timely diagnosis has, in many instances, helped prevent a temporary condition from becoming chronic.
Now let's turn our attention to atonic constipation, which is, we have said, by far the commoner type. Just how prevalent constipation is, would be difficult to say, but a well known life insurance company ranks gastro-intestinal diseases second in prevalence, colds and other respiratory infections being first. Hence we may say with reasonable surety that everyone suffers from constipation some time or other. But statistics aren't necessary to prove the prevalence of constipation. Just glance at the newspapers, walk along the streets and notice the billboards, electric signs or drug store windows, take a ride on a bus or street car wherever there are advertisements the word constipation in large letters will be confronting you. A visitor from Mars might well surmise that we all were in the throes of a dread disease which was undermining our happiness, ruining our careers, breaking up homes and finally causing death. Nor would he be far from the truth. Constipation can, and often does these things; and it knows no laws the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor all fall victims to its insidious preyings. Fortunately, however, there are sound and simple remedies within the reach of everyone.
The prevalence of constipation by no means implies that it is a necessary evil. Far from it! It is not an infectious or contagious disease like typhoid or scarlet fever. The only way you could catch it from another person would be to ape his unwholesome, unhygienic habits of living. For living habits are at the root of constipation. If your diet, sleep, fresh air and other factors involved in your daily living are in harmony with the laws laid down by Mother Nature, elimination should take place regularly and thoroughly without you giving it any more thought than your breathing. In other words, we may blame civilization for constipation.
If you need proof of this statement, just think of the life of a hard working peasant. He works outdoors all day long, unhampered by binding clothing so that his muscles, especially his abdominal ones, are firm and strong, yet elastic and capable of relaxing. His diet is simple and contains plenty of roughage; he hasn't a worry in the world. Even the fact that his neighbor's wheat sprouted before his doesn't bother him too much, for after all, competition puts zest into life. He sleeps soundly but not so heavily that unfamiliar noises won't rouse him at once. And of course he eliminates regularly and usually after each meal. He is living a natural life.
Now compare your life with his. If you are a man, you probably get up at the last minute "that certainly was some party last night," wash, shave and dress in almost no time, and then, with one eye on the morning paper and the other on the clock, you gulp down a heavy breakfast, largely to avoid argument; or, if you feel like asserting your masculine prerogatives, you swallow a cup of coffee and make a dash for the train, bus or street car which carries you to work. An elevator carries you to your office where you sit until noon. Feel rather groggy, don't you? Wish you could take a brisk walk, but you've promised the boys you would meet them in the restaurant downstairs. Two o'clock and you promised the boss to be back by one thirty! So long, boys got to dash. Five thirty just time enough to catch the bus home. Certainly glad the day is over awfully worried about the boner you pulled but maybe you'll get another chance. Not very hungry, but you have a weakness for roast pork and apple pie. Tomorrow you'll do a little bragging at the office, for you've picked the swellest little cook in the world for a wife. Wish she wasn't so cross, though you're doing the best you can. Why couldn't she wait till after dinner before she starts complaining about Junior's unmanageableness and housecleaning? She couldn't feel as tired as you.
But she is as tired as you are. Her day has been as contrary to the laws of nature as yours. Don't forget she got up a half hour earlier than you did, although she retired as late as you did. After cooking breakfast and rushing you off to work and the children to school, she simply couldn't think of eating, besides she was expecting a new cleaning woman. Oh, why doesn't she show up? There she is at last.Here's your lunch, children. What makes you so late? How many times have I told you to come straight from school? You've only got a few minutes now and your lunch is cold at that. Oh, Mary, how did you tear your dress? Well, come upstairs and Mother will find another. No, Children, Mother can't stop to eat now, but she's going to the sewing club this after-noon and will get something to eat there. That new girdle with the high waistline is tight she can hardly breathe or bend, but it does give a streamline effect. Thank goodness she only has to go across the street, for she is awfully late and must be back in time to roast the pork. Besides, dinner must be a little earlier than usual tonight as both of you are going to the Smiths to play bridge.
It certainly was stuffy at the Smiths. Really they could open one window when everyone was smoking so much. And they really didn't have to go to all that trouble, serving such fancy eats a light salad or a few sandwiches would have been just as good. Well, let's turn in must be at the office early tomorrow.