Constipation is an aggravating, uncomfortable condition that can creep up on you. One day you’re feeling fine; a day or two later you are bloated and feeling abdominal discomfort or pain. It’s then you realize you haven’t had a regular bowel movement in several days. Whenever you are constipated, two questions hit you: What causes Constipation, and what can I do to remedy this misery?
Constipation medically is defined as having fewer than three stools in a week; severe constipation involves an average of less than one bowel movement a week. It is caused by the slow movement of fecal material through the colon (bowel), per medicinenet.com, and is linked to two disorders known as colonic inertia and pelvic floor dysfunction. These can result from factors such as medications you are taking, poor bowel habits (when you must go, go), diets low in fiber, dehydration, abuse of laxatives, hormonal disorders, certain diseases and high levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy.
Fortunately, there are short-term solutions to clearing up constipation (in most cases), as well as longer-term strategies you can implement to reduce the likelihood of it coming back—all without having to go to the doctor. First, though, it helps to know what the symptoms of constipation are, so that when it does hit—such as when you are traveling away from home for an extended period—you know what is going on and what you can do about it. Common symptoms of constipation include:
- Hard stools difficult, and sometimes painful, to pass
- Small stools
- Anal fissures and/or tears caused by hard stools
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, and perhaps swelling
- Aggravation of hernias
- A sense of incomplete evacuation (the feeling there’s more to come, but it’s not coming)
- Physiological distress and/or obsession with having bowel movements, per medicinenet.com
At times one of the first symptoms you might notice, and which may startle you at first, is blood accompanying a passed stool and/or on the tissue as you clean yourself. Don’t panic. However, if after several days of self-administered treatments described later in this article, the symptoms, to include the bleeding, aren’t going away or are worsening, it’s time to see a physician.
Here are some home remedies and preventative measures for constipation:
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of, preferably, water each day. How much water? One suggestion is to divide your weight (in pounds) in half, and that’s the number of ounces you want to imbibe daily. Consistent hydration facilitates digestion and supports muscle function, per globalhealingcenter.com. Water down the hatch helps keep things moving along.
- Coffee (but not too much). Just a cup (preferably a dark-roast coffee) or two go a long way in stimulating digestion and keeping the bowels moving thanks to the presence of fiber, oil and water.
- Olive oil. Essentially performs the same services as provided by coffee.
- Probiotics, such as that found in yogurt and kefir. The ingestion of probiotics can promote easier evacuation of stools through increased frequency, enhanced stool consistency and a shortened travel time through the digestive tract.
- Exercise. A healthy walk at a moderate pace after a meal helps keeps things moving along, if you know what we mean. A walk any time of day, in fact, on a consistent basis, goes a long way in more ways than one.
- Fiber. Foods particularly rich in fiber, and therefore beneficial to our staying “regular,” include, per medicinenet.com, beans (baked, garbanzo, lima, pinto, kidney and black-eyed peas); kiwi; sweet potatoes; popcorn (sans butter); nuts and seeds (preferably almonds, pecans and walnuts, but keep portions small – these are high in calories); whole-grain bread (includes Ezekiel bread); some fruits (pears, plums and apples); berries; flaxseed; broccoli; dried fruit; and, to no one’s surprise, the always reliable prunes or prune juice per Grandma, which are as good for babies as they are for us adults. Magnesium-rich foods such as leafy greens (spinach) and fish are also recommended.
- Herbs. Flax seed, psyllium and fenugreek are easy on the tummy and effective for the long haul as regular parts of our diet, while senna, aloe and buckthorn, per globalhealingcenter.com, are best ingested on a short-term basis when constipation hits.
When you are in the throes of constipation and you think the remedies above might need s boost, consider an over-the-counter product such as processed or synthetic fiber like Citrucel or Metamucil, a stool softener or a laxative, per webmd.com. Beware a “stimulant” laxative such as Ex-Lax: they can really speed things up, which needs to be accounted for when planning your day out and about. You will always want to know where the nearest rest room is located.
One last note: if your bout with constipation continues after a week of using home remedies or if symptoms worsen (such as rectal or abdominal pain, or bleeding) earlier than a week, it’s time to get to the doctor’s. In this case, haste makes waste, and that’s what you want.