Constipation… we’ve all had one of those days…
Constipation is a rather common condition that affects people of all ages. In fact, it’s much more common than you think because according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 42 million Americans suffer from it. While everyone experiences constipation at least once, women, unfortunately, are much more likely to get the condition. According to WebMD, this might be due to the slower movement of food through women’s intestines, but also because of the effect that female hormones have on the GI tract.
When it comes to the definition, constipation is having less than three bowel movements per week. However, note that the length of time between bowel movements vary from person to person. While some adults have them as often as three times a day, others have them three times per week. So it’s a bit tricky.
According to Linda Lee, Chief of Staff at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare, it can be defined as constipation if you have one of the following symptoms:
- less than three bowel movements per week
- straining to start or complete a bowel movement
- stool consistency that looks like rocks and pebbles
- a feeling of incomplete emptying
Acute vs. Chronic Constipation
Also known as recent-onset constipation, acute constipation begins suddenly and according to Health24, occurs when you have a serious medical illness (e.g. colon tumors) where constipation is the symptom. If acute constipation is accompanied by other symptoms like rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea, vomiting, and unexplained weight loss, then you should immediately seek professional help.
Chronic or long duration constipation is a condition where an individual has difficult, infrequent, or perceived incomplete evacuation of bowel movements. The symptoms include less than three bowel movements per week, hard stools, and having difficulty passing stools. Chronic constipation can affect the quality of life by slowing down your performance at work, and many other issues that come as a result of not knowing much about the condition which then leads to stress and anxiety. That’s why it’s recommended to talk to a doctor about your situation.
Causes of constipation
It’s often difficult to identify the factors that are causing constipation, however, there are many things that contribute to it, ranging from poor diets to an underlying medical problem, or as BetterHealth says, lifestyle-related causes and medical causes.
- routine changes
- lack of fiber in the diet
- not drinking enough water
- physical inactivity
- ignoring the urge to pass stool
- Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Multiple sclerosis, stroke, spinal cord injuries, and chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction.
- Systemic diseases like lupus, scleroderma, amyloidosis which affect many organs and tissues, or the whole body.
- Endocrine and metabolic conditions like diabetes, uremia, hypercalcemia, poor glycemic control, and hyperthyroidism.
- Colon or rectum problems like tumors which may block or squeeze the digestive system.
Talk to your doctor immediately if you experience the following symptoms:
- Severe abdominal cramps
- Blood in the stool when you manage to have a bowel movement
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constipated for more than two weeks despite using home remedies or changing your diet
You might want to read about: Severe Constipation Symptoms
Constipation treatment (starting with a diet change)
The treatment for constipation depends on what is causing the problem, however, in most cases it’s mild constipation that occurs due to poor diets and lack of activity, so you might want to start ruling these out first before looking into other causes.
1) Fiber! Fiber! Fiber! The best way to get your body back on track is by adding fiber-rich foods in your diet. Fiber makes the stool softer, thus easier to pass. WebMD recommends to gradually increase your fiber intake until you’re getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily. If you want to increase your fiber intake, try adding these foods in your diet.
- Fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, mangoes, strawberries, raspberries.
- Vegetables like beets, carrots, broccoli, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach, artichokes, potatoes (russet, red, and sweet).
- Beans & legumes like navy, white, garbanzo, lentils, kidney peas, and others.
- Bread & grains like dark rye, cracked wheat, pumpernickel/bulgur wheat, brown rice, wild rice, barley.
Moreover, cut down foods that are high in fat like cheese and other dairy products, meat, and processed foods.
2) Add more fluids. Try to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day and restrict the intake of drinks like coffee, tea, and alcohol.
3) Exercise more. Ideally, you should exercise every day for about 30 minutes, be it by walking, swimming, or biking. Exercising improves bowel motility.
4) Try laxatives. They are prescribed by the doctor to help soften your stools, however, you shouldn’t use them for longer than two weeks without talking to your doctor as your body can become dependent on them.
If the diet and lifestyle changes don’t solve your bowel problems, then it’s best to talk to your doctor who might recommend medications or surgery.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article: text, graphics, images, and other materials contained are strictly for informational purposes only. The content is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Please, ALWAYS seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider or cosmetologist with all the questions you may have about any medical condition or beauty regimen.
Read also: Constipation Causes, Treatment & Prevention