Treating The Many Causes of Constipation
Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States. Constipation is the passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, usually fewer than three times a week. People who are constipated may find it difficult and painful to have a bowel movement. Other symptoms of constipation include feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish.
What is constipation?
The most common causes of constipation are poor diet and lack of exercise. As food moves through the colon (large intestine), it absorbs water while forming waste products, or stool. Muscle contractions in the colon push the stool toward the rectum. By the time stool reaches the rectum, it is solid because most of the water has been absorbed. A medical history and physical examination may be the only diagnostic tests needed before your doctor suggests treatment.
The hard and dry stools of constipation occur when the colon absorbs too much water or if the colon’s muscle contractions are slow or sluggish, causing the stool to move through the colon too slowly.
Common causes of constipation are:
- not enough fiber in the diet
- not enough liquids
- lack of exercise
- irritable bowel syndrome
- changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, older age, and travel
- abuse of laxatives
- ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
- specific diseases such as stroke (by far the most common)
- problems with the colon and rectum
- problems with intestinal function (chronic idiopathic constipation)
A diet with enough fiber (20 to 35 grams each day) will help to form soft, bulky stool. A doctor or dietitian can help plan an appropriate diet. High-fiber foods include beans, whole grains and bran cereals, fresh fruits, and vegetables such as asparagus, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and carrots. For people prone to constipation, limiting foods with little or no fiber, such as dairy, meat, and processed foods, is also important.
In most cases, following these simple tips will help relieve symptoms and prevent recurrence of constipation:
- Eat a well-balanced, high-fiber diet that includes beans, bran, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of liquids. (water and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups)
- Exercise regularly.
- Do not ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
- Understand that normal bowel habits will vary.
- Whenever a significant or prolonged change in bowel habits occurs, check with a doctor.
For a physician referral or for more information, please contact us.