Constipation is so much more than simply missing a couple of bowel movements and anyone dealing with it can certainly attest to that. It’s an uncomfortable and sometimes distressing experience, and one that can leave you feeling clogged up and bogged down. However, constipation isn’t a disease in itself. Instead, it’s a symptom of something else going on that is making it difficult for you to make a bowel movement. The good news: there is a solution (or rather, many of them) that can get your bowels flowing – and not in a way that results in you running to the bathroom every couple of minutes.
What is Constipation and Why Does It Happen?
Constipation is a common digestive problem that many people experience, resulting in approximately 2.5 million doctor visits each year. It occurs when your bowel movements become dry and hard, making it difficult for them to pass. As a result, people struggling with constipation tend to experience less than three bowel movements per week, leading to many uncomfortable and sometimes even painful symptoms.
However, just because you aren’t having bowel movements regularly doesn’t necessarily mean you have constipation. Everyone’s bowel habits are different and some people may only have a bowel movement once or twice a week without any constipation. The difference between infrequent bowel movements and constipation are the other symptoms associated with the latter, such as:
- Stools that are hard to pass
- Stools that are painful to pass
- Lumpy, dry or hard stools
- Feeling like there’s a blockage in your rectum making it difficult to pass a stool
- Feeling like you can never completely empty your stool
- Needing assistance with bowel movements, whether by pressing on your stomach or using a finger to remove the stool
- Tightness in your abdomen
- Sharp, cramping pain in your stomach
- Feeling gassy and not getting any relief from passing gas
- Feeling bloated
If you are experiencing these symptoms in combination with vomiting, bleeding from your rectum, blood in your stool, pain in the lower back, fever or consistent abdominal pain, it is recommended to seek medical attention.
Common Causes of Constipation
In order to understand common causes of constipation, you need to first understand how the gastrointestinal (GI) tract works. It is a complex system of organs that start from the mouth and end at the anus. It is responsible for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, and eliminating waste from the body.
The large intestine (your bowel), is a part of the lower GI tract which includes the colon and rectum. Its main function is to absorb water from the digested food, forming solid stools.
When food moves too slowly through the large intestine, the colon absorbs too much water from it, resulting in hard, dry stool that is difficult to pass, resulting in constipation.
There are various factors, such as a low-fiber diet, lack of physical activity, medications, or medical conditions that can lead to constipation. It is always best to speak with your healthcare provider.
However, some common factors that can cause constipation are:
- Holding in your bowel movements
- Delayed bowel movements due to colon surgery or a pelvic floor disorder
- Gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome
- Some medications, such as antidepressants, may have constipation as a side effect
- Some dietary supplements, such as calcium supplements, can cause constipation
- Dehydration or not drinking enough water
- Lack of exercise
- Not consuming enough fiber
- Reliance on laxatives o enemas
- Some medical conditions, such as diabetes, celiac disease, polyps, M.S., Parkinson’s disease, strokes and nerve damage
- Imbalanced gut flora
- Thyroid or hormonal problems
- Magnesium deficiency
- Poor bathroom habits
- Jet lag and traveling
Additionally, there are some factors that can make you more susceptible to having constipation, such as your age, gender and mental health. Generally speaking, women, people over 65 and people suffering from depression or other mental health conditions are at higher risk. If you’re pregnant, recently gave birth or had surgery can also lead to a higher risk for constipation.
Common Treatments for Constipation
Treating constipation is not only necessary for relieving the uncomfortable, distressing symptoms. It can also reduce your risk of developing additional complications, such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, a back-up of too much stool leading to fecal impaction and stress urinary incontinence. The good news: there are several treatment options available – from conventional medicine to lifestyle modifications that can both treat and prevent it from happening in the first place.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common and effective ways constipation is treated.
In the odd case that making some healthy, positive lifestyle changes does not put an end to your constipation, your healthcare provider may recommend a fiber supplement, stool softeners, lubricants, stimulants or other medication. If you intend on taking these medications, it’s important to remember that constipation is often a symptom instead of a condition in itself, and these medications may not address the actual issue causing your constipation. This may provide you with relief for the time-being but can cause constipation to return since the underlying problem still remains.
Additionally, regular use of laxatives can interfere with natural bowel movements. It is highly recommended that you only use them under a doctor’s guidance.
Natural Remedies for Constipation
Many cases of constipation can be effectively treated and prevented at home with the use of some self-care, lifestyle adjustments and natural remedies. From making some positive changes in your diet and exercising more regularly to eating one specific fruit or adjusting your toilet posture, here are some natural ways to get your bowels moving.
Implement Some Self-Care
A little self-care can go a long way. Not only can it help increase muscle activity in your bowels but it can also help reduce stress – a major factor that can interfere with your regular bowel movements, promote relaxation,
- Engage in regular physical activity or exercise.
- Prioritize your sleep.
- Implement stress management strategies.
- Practice yoga to release tension in the mind and body.
- Drink four to eight glasses of water each day to stay hydrated.
- Take one tablespoon of molasses before bed to ease constipation.
Practice Healthy Bathroom Habits
Many bowel problems begin in the bathroom, so it’s a great place to start when trying to relieve constipation and other GI-related issues. Here are some suggestions:
- Improve your toilet posture: Raise your feet, lean back, or squat.
- Consider using a toilet posture device, such as a squatty potty.
- Avoid reading or using your electronic devices while trying to move your bowels.
- Give yourself time to go to the bathroom.
- Never hold in or delay your bowel movements.
Boost Your Diet
There are several things you can do within your diet to help conquer constipation, many of which require making a few simple changes. Here are some suggestions:
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Avoid drinks containing caffeine and alcohol, which can cause dehydration.
- Consume more high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Snack on some prunes, raisins and figs, as they’re natural laxatives
- Keep a food diary to identify foods that may be contributing to your constipation.
- Drink your liquids warm or at room temperature to stimulate digestion.
- Avoid processed and fried foods.
- Add a sprinkle of sesame seeds on your plate to help moisturize your intestines.
- Drink mint or ginger tea to help alleviate digestive problems.
- Add a splash of lemon into your drinking water to help flush out toxins.
- Drink aloe vera juice twice daily to encourage bowel movements.
- Consume more probiotics from items, such as yogurt and kefir.
Supplement As Needed
If you’re still having difficulties getting everything you need in your diet to help combat and treat constipation, dietary supplements can certainly help. Here are some common options:
- Cod liver oil: Mix 1 tablespoon with 7 ounces of carrot juice to stimulate bowel movements and drink once daily.
- Flaxseed oil: Mix 1 tablespoon with 7 ounces of carrot juice to stimulate bowel movements and drink once daily.
- Caster oil: Take 15-60 mL in one single dose orally for a natural, mild laxative.
- Apple pectin: Take 1 to 2 teaspoons of apple pectin daily to promote digestion.
- Magnesium: Take an oral supplement or use a magnesium lotion or spray daily.
- Probiotics: Take a probiotic supplement daily to maintain a healthy gut flora.
- Fiber: Add an over-the-counter fiber supplement into your diet.
Don’t let your constipation bog you down any longer. There are simple and effective ways to manage and prevent it. By making small changes to your diet, exercise habits, and self-care routine, such as staying hydrated and practicing good posture while using the toilet, you can improve your bowel movements and prevent constipation from occurring in the first place.