CIC Basics: Defining the Condition

The definition of constipation is straightforward: it is when a person has trouble passing stools (they are hard and difficult to expel) and has a bowel movement only once every three days or even less often than that. Chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) is when this occurs on a regular basis.

To help better understand the term, let's break it down:

  • Chronic means that it is an ongoing problem, even a daily occurrence, rather than something that happens every so often.
  • Idiopathic means that there is no known cause. Some types of constipation can be matched to a cause, but with CIC there's no obvious reason for it to be happening.

Classifying CIC: A Functional Bowel Disorder

There's a group of digestive conditions that are called functional disorders and CIC falls into this category. When nothing is found in the body that would explain the symptoms, the problem is categorized as a functional one. In other words, a physician looks at the digestive system, such as through tests like a colonoscopy or a biopsy, but can find no evidence of a disease.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome vs. CIC

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another type of functional gastrointestinal disorder. It has three categories: diarrhea-predominant (IBS-D), constipation-predominant (IBS-C), and alternating constipation and diarrhea (IBS-A).

Because of their names, many confuse IBS-C and CIC. However, they are not the same condition. Although IBS is also a functional disorder, there are guidelines called the Rome Criteria that physicians use to distinguish it from CIC. And although the signs and symptoms of IBS-C and CIC may overlap, they are still considered to be two different, unique conditions.

How Many People Experience CIC?

As many as 35 million American adults experience chronic idiopathic constipation. It can be an uncomfortable condition, and although the exact cause is unknown, many find successful treatments and strategies for symptom relief.

The first step is to learn more about the condition in order to understand what the goal of treatment is. How can you best work with your doctor? What symptoms can you alleviate? What is a normal bowel movement? Take some time to explore this section and answer these questions before moving on to exploring your treatment options for living well.