Constipation is said to be present when your bowel movements are irregular or difficult. You happen to shed feces less often than normal when constipated. Almost everyone face bowel irregularities at some point in their lives, and it's usually not something to worry about. Still, your body will be in good health and you’ll feel better when your system is back on track.
Many people live in the falsehood that having regular bowel movement means to have bowel movement everyday. However, the normal length of time between bowel movements fluctuates widely from person to person. For some people having regular bowel movements could mean pooping three times a day and on the other hand it could be only once or twice a week.
Hanging on for longer than three or more days without bowel movement is generally too long. After three days or so, the stool becomes harder and tougher to pass.
Symptoms of Constipation
Constipation is a common problem with people of every age group but it usually affects elder people and pregnant women more.
Signs and symptoms of constipation include:
• Hardly any bowel movements
• Difficulty in having a bowel movement (straining)
• Stiff or small stools
• A sense that your bowels didn’t get completely emptied
• Swelling or pain in abdomen
Causes of Constipation
Constipation occurs when feces remain in the colon (large intestine) for a very long duration, and the colon (last part of the small intestine) absorbs too much water from the feces, causing them to become dry and hard. Some common causes of constipation include:
• Not being active
• Not enough water or fiber in your diet
• Eating a lot of dairy products
• Eating disorders
• Changes in your usual diet or activities
• Under active thyroid (hypothyroidism)
• Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
• Medications such as narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills
• Overuse of laxatives (Prolonged use weakens the bowel muscles)
• Colon cancer
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Diseases of the central nervous system such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis
• Problems pertaining to the nerves and muscles in the digestive system
• Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, which some people do because of hemorrhoids.
Diagnosis of Constipation
If you have trouble with your bowel movements for more than two weeks, you should see your healthcare professional. Your doctor may ask for these tests to find the cause of your constipation:
• Blood tests to check on hormone levels
• Barium studies to look for any blockages in your colon. For this test, you'll down a special drink and then get an X-ray.
• Colonoscopy or other tests to look for blockages in your colon
Treatments for Constipation
Certain foods, drinks and the right amount of exercise can help ease the symptoms of constipation. Try these steps:
• Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day (unless your doctor told you to limit fluids for another health reason). This will help you stay hydrated and facilitate bowel movement.
• Try warm liquids, especially in the morning. Some teas may help relieve constipation such as herbal laxative tea and anti constipation tea. Laxative herbal teas have relaxing and soothing properties. They contain certain ingredients which help facilitate your bowel movement naturally.
• Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. This will help you get enough fibre content. Fibre and roughages induce smooth conduction of feces through your bowels.
• You can also go for a very mild over-the-counter stool softener like docusate (Peri-Colace) or a laxative like magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia). Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor. Laxative overuse can worsen your symptoms.
Myths and facts about Constipation
• MYTH: You Should Have a Bowel Movement Every Day
Bowel movements differ from person to person. Some people poop thrice a day whereas others just go thrice a week. It’s common to have a bowel movement once a day. But it's OK to go a few days without one as long as you feel fine.
• FACT: Your meds could be a cause
Some drugs for pain, depression, high blood pressure, and Parkinson's disease are linked to constipation. Tell your doctor what’s going on. You may be able to take something else. Calcium and iron supplements, especially if you also take something else that affects your stool, can also cause problems.
• MYTH: It creates toxins
It’s a common belief that constipation causes the body to absorb poisonous substances in stools, leading to diseases such as arthritis, asthma, and colon cancer which is absolutely baseless.
• FACT: Prunes are powerful
This small, dried fruit has earned a big reputation as "nature's remedy" for constipation. Prunes (also called dried plums) are rich in insoluble fiber, as well as the natural laxative sorbitol.
• MYTH: You just need more fiber
It’s true that most people lack sufficient amount of fiber in their diet and eating more fruits, veggies, and other plant foods and increasing water intake would be a good idea. If you’re still constipated after that, there could be other reasons, like a medical condition or a side effect from some medicines.
Ways to prevent Constipation
Your eating habits and workout greatly affect your chances of becoming constipated. Practice these healthy habits to completely ward off the risk of constipation:
• Eat a well-balanced diet brimming with plenty of fiber. Rich sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, legumes, and cereal (especially bran).
• Drink 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of water and other fluids a day (unless you have been kept on a fluid-restricted diet by your doctor). Fiber and water work together to keep you regular.
• Avoid caffeinated products as they can be dehydrating.
• Avoid milk intake. Some people may need to check on it because dairy products may be constipating for them.
• Exercise on regular basis.
• Go to the washroom immediately whenever you feel the urge. Don’t hold on for long.