Just like many bodily functions, your digestive health and bathroom habits can change day to day. While constipation is something that most of us live with at some point, it shouldn’t be frequent or long-term, yet difficulty with having bowel movements can be a normal part of life. There are many sources of constipation relief you can take care of on your own if it affects you from time to time, but chronic constipation should always be addressed with your doctor.
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation occurs when your bowel movements don’t make their way through your digestive system properly. You’re usually considered constipated if you’re having fewer than three bowel movements in a week, amongst other symptoms. It can also mean you’re having hard stools, you have to push or strain to have a bowel movement, you feel like there’s a blockage in your digestive system, or if you need help emptying your rectum.
There are a lot of different things that cause constipation, including not eating the right foods, being dehydrated, not being physically active, taking certain medications, or suffering from a mental health condition. Constipation can also occur when you’re pregnant or recovering from childbirth, and is more common in women and in older adults.
What Should I Be Eating Or Drinking?
A lot of constipation problems stem from what you are—or aren’t—eating and drinking. Although “eat more fiber” is a pretty standard bit of advice for people who are constipated, not all fiber is created equal. If you want to up your fiber intake, you should focus more on soluble, non-fermentable fibers. This can be found in fiber-rich foods like oats and grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and some fruits and veggies. It can also be achieved through the use of fiber supplements. The American Heart Association recommends 25 grams of fiber in a day, based on a 2000 calorie diet.
In addition to a diet high in fiber and lower in fat and processed foods, healthy eating can help you lose weight as well as lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. As far as drinking, you should make sure to stay well hydrated by drinking a lot of water. Heavy alcohol consumption can have a constipating effect. Some studies have even shown that coffee, specifically caffeinated, can also help keep you regular.
If making changes in your fiber intake doesn’t do the trick, you may need to address the balance of bacteria in your digestive system with probiotics or prebiotics. Some constipation comes as a result of improper balance of bacteria in the gut and digestive system. Probiotic foods can help with that by introducing “friendly” bacteria, which might relieve constipation. These can include yogurt, kimchi, kefir, pickles, certain types of cheese, and sauerkraut. Prebiotics can be found in whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans, and artichokes.
Does Exercise Help?
There are very few people who don’t benefit from regular exercise. Regular exercise, even just taking a moderate pace walk following a meal, can aid in your digestion by keeping your muscles moving and allowing your food to be digested more quickly. The less time it takes for your food to pass through your large intestine, the better it is for your digestion.
Should I Use Laxatives Or Stool Softeners?
Although over-the-counter laxatives or stool softeners are a good solution to help out every once in awhile, you shouldn’t make it a habit, especially without a doctor’s supervision. Stool softeners introduce an oil into your system, simply making stool softer and easier to pass. Others, called stimulant laxatives, actually stimulate your body to increase bowel movements.
When Should I Visit My Doctor?
You shouldn’t worry too much about constipation if it doesn’t happen frequently, but if it starts to become a regular occurrence or won’t go away no matter how many healthy changes you make, it’s time to see your doctor. Chronic constipation can be indicative of more serious conditions that you should make sure to address with your doctor. If you’ve been experiencing chronic constipation for more than a couple weeks, it’s time to make an appointment to visit our team at GI Associates so we can determine a cause and course of treatment to give you relief. You might even consider our HyGIeaCare system to treat constipation and provide relief.