Constipation means that your bowel movements are difficult or happen less often than normal. Almost everyone has experience this at some point in life, and it’s usually not serious. Still, you’ll feel much better when your system is back on track.
The normal length of time between bowel movements varies widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements three times a day. Others have them only once or twice a week.
Going longer than three or more days without one is usually too long. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and tougher to pass.
Why Does It Happen?
Some causes of constipation include:
- Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
- Changes in your usual diet or activities
- Colon cancer
- Eating a lot of dairy products
- Eating disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis
- Not being active
- Not enough water or fiber in your diet
- Overuse of laxatives (Over time, this weakens the bowel muscles)
- Problems with the nerves and muscles in the digestive system
- Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, which some people do because of hemorrhoids
- Some medications (especially strong pain drugs such as narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills)
- Under active thyroid (hypothyroidism)
If you have trouble with your bowel movements for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor. He or she 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
What Should I Do If I Am Constipated?
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)
- Try warm liquids, especially in the morning
- Add fruits and vegetables to your diet
- Eat prunes and bran cereal
- If needed, use 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.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor right away if you have sudden constipation with abdominal pain or cramping and you are not able to pass any gas or stool.
Also, call your doctor if:
- Constipation is a new problem for you
- You have blood in your stool
- You are losing weight even though you are not dieting
- You have severe pain with bowel movements
- Your constipation has lasted more than two weeks
- You have pencil-thin stools
Can I Prevent Constipation?
In many cases, you can. These things help:
- Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber. Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal (especially bran)
- Drink 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of water and other fluids a day (unless your doctor has you on a fluid-restricted diet).Fiber and water work together to keep you regular
- Avoid caffeine. It can be dehydrating.
- Check on milk. Some people may need to avoid it because dairy products may be constipating for them.
- Exercise regularly
- Go to the bathroom when you feel the urge
Causes Of Constipation
- Allergy or sensitivity to certain foods
- Imbalance in the natural bacterial balance in the intestine
- Magnesium and vitamin C deficiency
- Low thyroid function
- Lack of fiber, healthy fats, and safe starches in your diet
- Emotional stress
- Neurotransmitter (brain chemicals) imbalance
- Lack of exercise
- Chronic use of medications such as antacids, opioid painkillers, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics, and/or iron supplements
- Sluggish gallbladder
Ways To Address Some Of The Causes
- Eat a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory diet made up of organic meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats.
- Avoid common allergens like wheat, oats, corn, barley, milk products, soybean, and peanuts
- Take a high quality probiotic product – 2 per day
- Take magnesium citrate – 200–800 mg daily
- Take vitamin C – 1,000–3,000 mg daily
- Take resistant starch – begin with 1/8 teaspoon per day and increase by 1/4 teaspoon per day until you are taking 2 tablespoons per day
- Urinalysis to check neurotransmitter levels
- Walk at least 30 minutes per day
- Blood test to check thyroid function – TSH, T4, T3, Free T3, and Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO)
- Lower stress levels through meditation, yoga, keeping a gratitude journal, and doing things that make you happy
The root causes of constipation can be many, and often varies from person to person. Please consult your physician to determine the treatment most suited for you.