Constipation equals stress, too many hours at the computer and too few natural vegetables, yes these can sometimes make you irregular. But does that mean you have an impacted colon? Not always.
The normal frequency of bowel movements varies widely — from three a day to three a week. What’s normal for you may not be normal for someone else. In general, though, you’re probably constipated if you pass hard stools less than three times a week. In some cases you may also have a colon blockage, bloated feelings or abdominal cramping or pain.
Fortunately, a few common-sense lifestyle changes, including getting more exercise, eating high-fiber foods and drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, can go a long before searching for natural constipation remedies for preventing or alleviating the many symptoms associated with it.
Not having a bowel movement every day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re constipated. You’re likely constipated, however, if you:
- Pass a hard stool fewer than three times a week
- Strain frequently during bowel movements
- Have abdominal bloating or discomfort
What Are the Causes
Normally, the waste products of digestion are propelled through your intestines by muscle contractions. In the large intestine, most of the water and salt in this mixture are reabsorbed because they’re essential for many of your body’s functions. If too much water is absorbed, or if the waste moves too slowly, you may become constipated.
A number of factors can cause an intestinal slowdown, including inadequate fluid intake, a low-fiber diet, inattention to bowel habits, age, lack of physical activity, depression, pregnancy, illness — even stress.
Many medications, especially those used to treat Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure, some heart disorders and depression also can cause being bottled up. The same is true of most narcotics. And frequent use of laxatives often aggravates and may even cause constipation.
In rare cases being bottled up may signal more serious medical conditions such as colorectal cancer, hormonal or electrolyte disturbances, heart disease and kidney failure.
Sometimes young children are constipated because they forget to take time to use the toilet. And your toddler might become constipated during toilet training if he or she is afraid or unwilling to use the toilet.
What is Good For Constipation
- Eat on a regular schedule.
Choose lots of high-fiber foods, including fresh fruits, vegetables and whole-grain cereals and breads. Experiment to see if particular fruits or vegetables have a laxative effect for you. Some of these foods may also cause gas, so eat moderate amounts.
- Limit problem foods.
These include foods that are high in fat and sugar. Also cut back on dairy foods. These may aggravate being bottled up, especially in children.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
How much water and other fluids should you drink daily? The National Research Council (NRC) uses a sliding scale of 1 milliliter (mL) of water for every calorie burned. This scale is not for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, infants, children and older adults who are unhealthy. The NRC says the average man — who burns about 2,900 calories daily — needs 2,900 mL, or about 12 cups, of water each day. The average woman — who burns 2,200 calories daily — needs about 2,200 mL, or about 9 cups, of water each day. For your own calculations: One measuring cup (8 fluid ounces) of water equals 236 mL. But these cups don’t have to be filled with water. Solid food contains water. In an average diet, food provides about 3 to 4 cups of water each day, so you can subtract this from your daily fluid intake goal. Men, because they generally are bigger and have more lean muscle tissue, on average need more water each day than women do.
- Increase your physical activity.
Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise such as walking, biking or swimming on most days.
- When nature’s call.
The longer you delay going to the toilet once you feel the urge, the more water that’s absorbed from stool and the harder it becomes.
- Fiber supplements.
Over-the-counter products such as Metamucil and Citrucel can help keep stools soft and regular. Check with your doctor about using stool softeners. If you use fiber supplements, be sure to drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water or other fluids every day. Otherwise, fiber supplements can cause being bottled up or make it worse. Add fiber to your diet slowly to avoid problems with gas.
- Don’t rely on stimulant laxatives.
These include products such as Senokot or Dulcolax, which work by irritating the walls of your intestines. Habitual use can damage your bowels and make being bottled up worse. For occasional relief try osmotic agents, such as milk of magnesia. Keep in mind that long-term use of even gentle laxatives can cause dependency. For constipated children, give them plenty of fluids to drink, but avoid giving them laxatives unless your doctor says it’s OK.
Changes in your lifestyle are the best and safest way to manage abnormal frequency of bowel movement. To help ease symptoms, try using a fiber supplement, such as psyllium powder, Metamucil, Konsyl, Fiberall or Citrucel. These natural supplements help make stools softer and are usually safe to use every day. Be sure to drink plenty of water or other fluids every day. Otherwise, fiber supplements can actually make your symptoms worse. And add fiber to your diet slowly to avoid problems with gas.
Your doctor may recommend a stool softener, such as mineral oil or decussate sodium (Colace, Dialose), to soften fecal matter so that it passes through your intestines more easily. But never use stool softeners on a regular basis because they can cause other problems. Mineral oil interferes with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and can cause a serious form of pneumonia if it’s accidentally inhaled (aspirated) into your lungs, so don’t take mineral oil just before you lie down.
If you’re pregnant, don’t use laxatives other than fiber supplements without checking with your doctor first. Try eating lots of high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It’s a good idea to check the content of prepared foods because not all foods claiming to be high in fiber actually are. Prunes, prune juice and figs often help relieve symptoms, but they can cause gas. Drink plenty of fluids and get as much exercise as you can. Swimming, biking and walking are good choices. If you take iron supplements, or if your prenatal supplements are high in iron, you may want to talk to your doctor about reducing your dosage. For some people iron can cause hardening of the stool.
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