Overview of Constipation
Constipation is a condition that occurs by the slow passage of food through any part of digestive system. Mostly it occurs when the colon absorbs too much water from the food present in the colon. This makes the stool harder and difficult to pass through the bowels.
Constipation symptoms may differ from person to person. For some, it means infrequent bowel movements or difficulty in passing stool, and for some it means hard stools or belly bloating.
Normal and healthy individuals pass 1 bowel movement on a 24-hour day cycle. In general, if a person is having 3 or fewer bowel movements in 6-7 days, it is considered as Constipation. In some severe cases of constipation, patients only pass 1 or 2 bowel movements in a weeks time.
It may come as a surprise to you, that there is no medically accurate number of bowel movements for a day. Most people don’t have a bowel movement or the same movement every day. It is normal to skip a movement or have an extra bowel movement on some days.
Almost every person goes through the problem of constipation at some point. But there is nothing serious if the problem is temporary. In case, the problem persists for more than 3 weeks, visit a doctor.
Any person may have different symptoms of constipation depending on lifestyle, age, bowel movements, diet, etc. Commonly constipation is said to occur when you have less than three bowel movements in a week. Other symptoms of constipation include:
- Belly bloating
- Reduced appetite
- Passing fewer than 3 stools in a week
- Having lumpy stools
- Hard, small or dry stools
- Lower abdominal discomfort
- Trouble having bowel movement
- Anal bleeding due to hard feces
- Fewer bowel movements
- Feeling of blockage in rectum
- Feeling of incomplete evacuation after going to bathroom
Constipation occurs by the slow passage of food through any part of digestive system.Different causes of constipation include unhealthy lifestyle, low water intake, lack of digestive fiber in foods, lack of exercise, aging, certain health conditions, medications, etc. It has many possible causes.
A wide range of factors that lead to constipation include:
- Lack of exercise
- Inactive lifestyle
- Lack of water intake
- Consumption of Alcohol and Caffeine
- Eating lot of Dairy products
- Foods containing fats and sugar
- Lack of high-fiber food
- Overuse of laxatives
- Health conditions
- Certain medications
Cause of constipation can be anything such as unhealthy lifestyle, aging or any health condition. Regular exercise for adults and increased activity in elders are very helpful in proper bowel movements. Here are some tips to prevent constipation:
- Drink plenty of water: It is important to drink enough water every single day and stay hydrated to prevent constipation. Make sure you drink 10-12 glasses of water every day. Avoid consumption of alcohol and caffeinated drinks as it causes dehydration, which leads to constipation. To stimulate bowel movements and get good results in few days, put water in a copper vessel and drink it empty stomach in the morning.
- Eat more fiber: Increase of fiber intake in your diet can reduce the problem of constipation. Fiber binds to the water in the intestine which adds volume to the stool and the water softens the stool. High fiber foods include some fruits, green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, potatoes, prunes, broccoli, etc.
- Avoid alcohol as it dehydrates your intestines.
- Avoid Dairy products: In some cases of intolerance towards dairy products can cause constipation like symptoms. Consume fewer dairy products for few days to eliminate this possibility.
- Include Prebiotic and Probiotic foods in your diet: Both prebiotics and probiotic foods contain healthy microbes that help in maintaining the flora of your gut. These bacteria help in maintaining digestion and acidity of the stomach.
- Instead of fruit juices, consume whole fruits as the fruit pulp contains more digestive fibers.
- Avoid using artificially sweetened and processed and preserved foods. Eat fresh.
- Eating sticky and greasy foods can also make it difficult to pass the bowel movements.
Home remedies which are helpful in treating constipation, mainly focus on hydrating your body and increasing the intake of dietary fibers. Here are some home remedies that you can try:
- Psyllium Ovata (Isabgol): P. Ovata, also known as Isapghula or Isabgol is a soluble dietary fiber obtained from the seeds of a herbal plant. It is also sold in the form of powder, capsules, and tablets. It works a natural bulk-forming laxative and increases the mass of fecal matter while making it softer. This forces fecal matter to pushed out of the intestines faster and easier.
- Prunes: Prune fruits and it’s juice contain a lot of digestive fibers. But what makes it more effective in treating constipation in the chemical called ‘Sorbitol‘. Sorbitol works as a natural laxative. Just eating 5-7 prunes in a day can relieve your bowel movements. For better results, eat prunes for 2-3 days in a row.
- Lemon: Lemon is one of the simplest and effective home remedies. Lemon juice has high acid content and is very helpful in treating constipation by stimulating the digestive system. Drink a glass of warm water mixing it with the juice of one lemon. It should be taken first thing in the morning. For better results take it twice daily, you can also drink it in the evening. It will help in regular bowel movement.
These remedies are to be followed for few days in order to check whether it suits you or not. If the problem is not solved with these natural remedies and persists longer, contact your doctor.
Treatment of constipation depends upon different symptoms and age of the patient. The number of bowel movements usually decreases with age. From the age of 4 to 21 years having 5 to 7 bowel movements in a week is normal.
The treatment o constipation includes increasing water intake, more exercise, eating fiber-rich foods, reducing intake of dairy products and others.
Laxatives can also be used for the treatment of constipation but should only be used after the prescription of the qualified doctor.
In some cases, your doctor may suggest performing procedures like Enemas or Rectal Suppositories. These are used to relieve constipation by contracting the intestinal muscles and helps in a softer stool. It includes bisacodyl (Dulcolax suppository), docusate (micro enema), sodium phosphate (fleet enema), etc. Some suppositors also contain stimulant laxatives.
In most of the cases, the problem of constipation is temporary and can be treated with the help of few home remedies. But in case of problem persists longer, consult a doctor immediately for proper treatment.
Over-the-counter (OTC) Laxatives for Constipation
- Saline laxatives: It contains ions such as sulfate, phosphate, magnesium, and citrate. These ions draw water into the colon and remain there, which increases pressure in it and results in softer feces. Saline laxatives work within few hours and most frequently used saline product is milk of magnesia.
- Stimulants: It causes the muscles of intestines to push the contents forward more rapidly. It helps to increase the amount of water in the colon. Stimulant laxatives are very effective and include cascara (castor oil), Dulcolax, carrectol, etc.
- Osmotics: It works by increasing number of bowel movements and softens the stool by holding water in there. It includes Miralax, sorbitol, glycolax, golytely, and cephula. These laxatives are usually used to clean the bowel before colon surgery.
- Stool softeners: it is also known as Emollient laxatives. It prevents hardening of stool, adds moisture to the stool and allows strain free bowel movement. These are usually used to prevent constipation. It includes colace, surfak and other products containing docusate.
- Bulk-forming laxatives: These are most gentle and safest laxatives recommended for initial treatment of constipation. It includes polycarbophil (Fibercon), Guar gum (Benefiber), Metamucil, Citrucel, Maltsupex, konsyl, and serutan. It softens the stool and makes passage of stool much easier.
- Lubricant laxatives: It softens the stool and helps to move it down the colon very easily. It includes mineral oil and fleet. It is usually used by the patients who are in need to avoid straining in few conditions such as surgery, childbirth, heart attack, etc.
All the medicines listed above are available to use without a doctor’s prescription. Follow the instruction as directed on the product label. However, you should always consult a doctor before using and medicine. The doctor will prescribe you the correct dosage while minimizing the chances of possible side effects.
Constipation is a common problem and it can occur to anyone at any point in their daily life. However, with simple changes in lifestyle and diet habits can solve the problem.
When should I consult a Doctor?
Consult a doctor if:
- If home remedies don’t help
- Anal fissure
- Blood in stool
- Rectal prolapse
- Severe pain with bowel movements
- Severe abdominal pain
- Recent change in bowel habits
- Tiredness, fatigue and other conditions in addition to constipation
- Losing weight even you don’t need to or not even trying
- If symptoms of constipation lasts more than 3 weeks