Chances are that at some point in your life you’ve experienced constipation. It’s a very common condition. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, 16% of US adults have symptoms of constipation and about a third over 60 experience constipation symptoms. Between 1997 and 2010, the number of people admitted to the hospital for constipation nearly doubled. What’s accounting for the increase? Many experts attribute it to a change in our lifestyles – less exercise, and a diet with more processed foods vs. fewer liquids and fibrous foods.
The good news is that most of the time, constipation can be treated. Read on for more information about constipation, what causes it, how to relieve symptoms of constipation, and when to consider it a serious problem.
WHAT IS CONSTIPATION?
Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. It’s important to note that everyone’s schedule for emptying their bowels can widely vary. You may be someone who regularly has a bowel movement once or twice a day, and could experience symptoms if you go just a couple of days without emptying your bowels.
WHAT DOES CONSTIPATION FEEL LIKE?
When you have constipation, your stools are often hard or lumpy and may be difficult to pass. You may even feel as if you can’t completely empty your bowels. People with constipation often feel bloated or experience pain or belly cramps due to constipation. And, you may feel a heaviness or discomfort in your abdomen.
Some people with constipation may also experience back pain, as the retention of fecal matter can swell the intestines, causing a dull, aching discomfort.
Constipation can have symptoms that reach beyond physical as well. Patients with chronic constipation have been shown to have higher rates of anxiety and depression than those without constipation.
WILL CONSTIPATION GO AWAY ON ITS OWN?
In many cases, constipation will go away on its own within a few days. This is especially true if you make small lifestyle changes such as increasing your physical activity or changing your diet to include more liquids and foods that contain fiber.
WHAT CAN I DO TO GET RELIEF FROM CONSTIPATION?
HOW TO GET RID OF CONSTIPATION FAST AT HOME
Simple lifestyle changes can help relieve constipation quickly.
- Drink more water (unless advised not to by your doctor). Warm liquids can help too since they stimulate the bowel by widening blood vessels in your digestive system and increasing the blood flow and GI activity.
- Adjust your diet. Certain foods are known to help aid in constipation, especially those containing fiber, as they help to bulk up your stool making it easier to pass. Prunes are a tried and true remedy for constipation. You can also try adding probiotics, such as kefir and yogurt, or sauerkraut to your diet. Other foods, such as broccoli, clear soups, beans, wheat bran, grapes, and apples or pears may also help.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which are dehydrating and can worsen constipation.
- Add some exercise to your day. Exercise can help your body move food through the large intestines more quickly, giving it less time to absorb the water from the stool and making it easier to pass. Simple walking is a great way to work in some extra exercise and may be enough to get things moving.
- Watch how you poop. Certain positions may make it easier to pass a bowel movement. Try using a stool to prop your feet up and create more of a squatting posture.
- If you have to go, don’t ignore it. Putting off your bowel movements too often can “train” your bowel to hold it in for longer periods of time.
MEDICATION FOR CONSTIPATION
There are a handful of prescription medications that your doctor may prescribe to you if you suffer from constipation. Some of these are more applicable to those who have tried lifestyle changes that haven’t worked.
Your doctor may also recommend the use of laxatives or certain over-the-counter medications. These may be good to use occasionally, but be careful, since overuse can have serious side effects. Always consult your doctor before starting a new medication.
OTHER TREATMENT OPTIONS
In rare cases, surgery may be used to relieve constipation. This happens most often when there is a structural problem in the colon, such as a blockage, an anal fissure, or a rectal prolapse (rectocele)
WHEN IS CONSTIPATION SERIOUS?
Constipation can often be resolved with the methods above, and if treated, is rarely a serious problem. But, if you experience any of the following, you should consult your doctor:
- You’re losing weight
- You see blood in the stool, or your stool is very dark
- You experience severe abdominal pain
- You experience vomiting
While many people experience constipation once in a while, extreme symptoms as listed above may indicate problems due to another more serious underlying condition.