- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Constipation Remedies for You
What is constipation?
The term "constipation" gets tossed around a lot. In fact, anyone who feels like he needs to go to the bathroom but can't might complain of being constipated. But, the fact is that there's a very specific definition of constipation: according to the National Institutes of Health, constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements per week. In addition, people who experience constipation often feel like they're straining to have a bowel movement and experience compact, hard stools.
Constipation is a very common problem. According to the NIH, more than 4 million Americans suffer from constipation regularly, and it is most common in people aged 65 and older. Many constipation sufferers treat themselves with over-the-counter laxatives, though more than 2 million visit doctors each year due to this problem.
Causes of constipation
The most common cause of constipation, according to the NIH, is poor diet. Eating a low fiber diet -- one rich in meat and dairy products and processed foods and lacking in fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains -- can contribute greatly to a constipation problem. For the majority of people suffering from constipation, this will be the main culprit.
In other cases, though, constipation can be caused by certain drugs, conditions or diseases, including:
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Medications, such as certain blood pressure medications, some antidepressants and narcotic pain relievers
- Diseases or medical problems such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, lupus, diabetes and Parkinson's disease
When to see a doctor for constipation
If your problem with constipation is fairly run of the mill, and you believe it can be linked to a bout of poor diet or lack of exercise, it might be nothing to worry about.
But, Web MD recommends that you see a doctor if you experience blood in your stools, pain, unexplained weight loss or your constipation lasts more than two weeks.
Your doctor can take down detailed information about your symptoms and possibly perform a rectal exam -- and possibly some additional tests -- to try to determine the cause of your constipation problem. In some cases, constipation can be caused by a serious condition, such as some kind of blockage or cancer, so it is important to get constipation checked out by a medical professional if it is a severe or ongoing problem.
Constipation remedies - diet
So, if you have constipation and have determined that you believe the problem can be treated at home, here are some steps to take:
The best constipation remedy for run of the mill cases -- by far -- is a change in diet. If you are constipated and you reflect on your diet over the previous week or so, you probably will realize that you have been loading up on processed junk foods and animal products, such as dairy and meat, which are devoid of fiber. Maybe you've also been shunning your fruits and veggies?
If so, here are some changes you should make to your diet:
- Drink plenty of water each day (and WEbMD recommends drinking warm beverages in the morning). A cup of warm herbal tea would work.
- Add whole grains, fruits and vegetables to your diet. For breakfast, you might try some whole grain oatmeal or bran cereal or a smoothie with bananas and berries. For a snack, you might eat an orange, apple or other fruit. For lunch and dinner, try a salad, some lentil or split pea soup or steamed veggies like broccoli and cauliflower on a bed of brown rice. Sweet potatoes and spinach also are great.
- At the same time, try to stop clogging up your body with meat and dairy products -- and definitely stay away from junk food such as candy and pastries. If you are feeding this stuff into your body at the same time you're trying to get things moving again, you're just going to slow yourself up even more.
- And, try adding prunes to your diet as a snack.
Constipation remedies - lifestyle
Another constipation remedy is mild exercise. You don't want to overdo it and shock your body, but gentle exercise is a must. Here are some ideas:
- Start taking a slow to moderate half-hour walk each morning.
- Try some gentle stretches or, if you do yoga, some yoga poses.
- Gently massage your abdomen for a few minutes each day.
- Give yourself time. Sometimes constipation can be caused by ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement, so allow yourself some time to relax and use the bathroom in peace.
Constipation remedies - laxatives
For most mild cases of constipation, the above constipation remedies should be enough to get your system moving again. But, some people will find the need to use an over-the-counter product to overcome a bout of constipation.
If that's the case, FamilyDoctor.org has a good article that outlines the types of over-the-counter laxatives. Examples are:
- Lubricant laxatives, which coat the stools to help them move out of the body more quickly (one example: Kondremul)
- Saline laxatives and stool softeners, which do just that (one example: Colace stool softener)
- Stimulant laxatives, which stimulate the bowel to move the stools out. (Stimulant laxatives -- examples include Correctol, Dulcolax and Ex-Lax stimulant laxatives -- are stronger than the other types listed.)
It's very important to not use laxatives for a long period of time because you could become dependent on them. It is very important not to use stimulant laxatives, especially, for more than a day or two.
Say goodbye to constipation
If your case of constipation is truly a mild one, and you follow the diet and lifestyle changes outlined above, you should be back to normal relatively quickly. Once you are, it's important to keep up with your new eating and exercise habits so you can say goodbye to constipation for good.
Photo credit --
Flickr Creative Commons photo by juhansonin