Most people struggle with constipation at some point in their lives, but persistent constipation may be cause to visit your doctor. In most cases, constipation is a result of too little fiber in the diet, not drinking enough fluids, too little exercise, the use of certain medications or ignoring the urge to go when you need to. In some cases, however, constipation can be a sign of disease or other serious health problem. Multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson's disease, thyroid issues, diabetes and lupus can all cause chronic constipation, as can a physical blockage in your intestine. If constipation lasts longer than three weeks, schedule an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible. When talking to your doctor about constipation, be sure to ask the following questions. 

Could my medications be causing constipation?

Medications are a common culprit for causing constipation. If you suspect your medication may be interfering with your bowel habits, talk to your doctor to find out whether switching medications may help alleviate the problem. 

What is your recommended treatment plan?

Once your doctor determines the cause of your constipation, a treatment plan will be put into place. Ask your doctor for details about your treatment plan, including how long you should expect to wait before noticing an improvement in bowel function and how long the treatment will last. 

Will over-the-counter laxatives help with my constipation?

In some cases, over-the-counter medications, such as laxatives, are enough to get things back to normal. Before taking an over-the-counter laxative or other medication, however, be sure to talk to your doctor about any possible side effects or issues with drug interactions. 

Do I need to see a gastroenterologist?

Gastroenterologists have extensive training in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the digestive system. Depending on the cause of your constipation, your doctor may decide to refer you to a gastroenterologist for further evaluation. Ask your doctor whether you should plan to see a gastroenterologist or not, and if so, the reasoning behind the referral. 

How can I prevent constipation from occurring in the future?

Once the cause of your constipation has been identified and a treatment plan is made, you'll want to talk to your doctor about ways you can prevent a reoccurrence in the future. In most cases, this will involve changes to diet and exercise, increased fluid intake, changes in medications and/or using the bathroom at a scheduled time every day. 

How much fiber should I eat each day?

Consuming too little fiber is one of the most common causes of constipation, and upping your daily fiber intake is generally an easy fix if your constipation is diet related. Talk to your doctor about the amount of fiber you should be consuming on a daily basis, and whether or not a fiber supplement would be right for you. 

What medical tests will be used to determine the cause of my constipation?

Your doctor will most likely want to run a series of tests to determine the cause of your constipation, as well as identify any underlying health conditions that may be causing it. Talk to your doctor about which tests will be used and what each test is used for.

Could I become dependent on laxatives?

Many people who suffer from chronic constipation worry about taking laxatives because they fear they'll become dependent on them. If you have used laxatives for a long period of time or plan to use laxatives to control your chronic constipation, talk to your doctor about how you can use laxatives safely, without increasing your risk of becoming laxative dependent.