Everything You Need to Know About How to Relieve Constipation
Why am I stopped up? When will I be regular again? How can I “move things along?”
First off, don't panic. Constipation is a taboo subject to many, but it doesn't have to be. Occasional constipation is very common and often treatable. Roughly 16% of people suffer from constipation and more than twice that amount for people over 60 (1). Constipation also occurs much more often in women than in men.
So, how do you relieve constipation? Read on to find out if you suffer from this common condition as well as some tips and tricks for finding relief.
What is constipation? What are the symptoms?
Constipation is a gastrointestinal (GI) condition with several potential symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Fewer than three bowel movements a week (or less than normal).
- Hard stool that is difficult or painful to pass.
- Stomach pain.
- Gas and bloating.
These symptoms occur when your large intestine absorbs too much water from your food. This causes the waste to become dry and hard resulting in painful bowel movements.
What causes constipation?
Constipation can occur for a variety of reasons and can be either chronic or occasional. The most common causes of constipation are:
- Poor diet (often a deficiency of water or fiber)
- Lack of exercise (which slows food in the digestive tract)
- Medications (such as antidepresants and certain pain relievers)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- A multitude of diseases including lupus, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and cancer.
Do I have constipation?
Please refer to the “What is constipation? What are the symptoms?” section of this article. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, you may have constipation. If you need further guidance, please consult your doctor.
How can I relieve my constipation?
The efficacy of constipation treatments (as with symptoms) can vary from person to person. Below are some of the most common ways to relieve constipation:
1. Change what you drink.
- More Water: Increasing water intake can help the consistency of your stool and make it easier to pass.
- Less Milk: Lactose is a type of sugar found in many dairy products (including milk). Consuming too much lactose can worsen the bloating and cramps associated with constipation.
- Less Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration and exacerbate constipation and its symptoms.
- Coffee: Find a balance. Consuming coffee can stimulate digestion, but overconsumption can dehydrate you. If you are going to drink coffee to assist with your constipation follow it up with an equal serving of water.
2. Change what you eat.
- More Fiber: One of the most popular ways to relieve constipation is to make sure you are eating enough fiber. Some high-fiber foods can be an effective (and delicious!) way to help. Food that is high in fiber helps by adding bulk to your stool as well as increasing water absoption during digestion.
- Add Prebiotics: Foods containing prebiotic fiber are not digested normally by your body. Instead, they ferment when they reach your colon and help feed the “good bacteria” in your digestive system. Foods rich in prebiotic fiber include garlic, onions, and asparagus.
- Fewer High-Fat Foods: If you eat foods high in fat and low in dietary fiber it can cause constipation and diarrhea. If your diet is high in fat, make sure to include a healthy dose of fiber into your meals.
Did you know? The American Heart Association recommends that you to eat at least 25 grams of fiber per day starting at age 4. The daily recommendation stays the same for adult women, but raises to 38 grams per day for adult men.
3. Try supplements.
- Psyllium fiber: Considered a soluble prebiotic fiber, psyllium fiber comes from the husk of ispaghula seeds. This type of fiber (also known as soluble fiber) creates a gel that slows down digestion allowing your stool to absorb more water. It is available in commercial powders, as well as pills.
- Probiotics: These healthy bacteria are helpful for fighting off harmful gut bacteria. They can also boost your immune system and help ease constipation. Probiotics are available in pill form, but can also be found in specialty drinks and yogurts.
- Magnesium Citrate: Often sold in liquid form, Citrate of Magnesia is a supplement that increases the flow of water in the intestines. This helps soften stool and makes it easier to pass. Magnesium citrate is not recommended for use with certain medications, so please consult a doctor before using.
Being sedentary is one of the common causes of constipation. Inceasing exercise helps food move through your digestive system at a faster pace. Faster digestion results in less water being absorbed and softer stool.
Constipation can be a tiresome and painful condition. Hopefully, our tips on how to recognize and relieve constipation have been helpful. However, the best treatment is always prevention. Stay hydrated, exercise, and eat well to stop constipation before it starts.