Most people don’t like to talk about constipation. Though this health condition can be embarrassing, any changes in your bowel habits should be discussed with your physician. Healthy digestion is one indicator of your overall health, so anything out of the ordinary should be evaluated.
Constipation is typically defined as having three or fewer bowel movements in a week. However, if you have hard stools that are difficult or painful to pass, this may also be considered constipation, regardless of the frequency.
Common causes of constipation
Many people have had occasional constipation at some point. Constipation that only lasts a few days is usually not cause for concern. Occasional constipation may be attributed to one of the following causes:
- Traveling or stress
- A low fiber diet
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Prescription pain medications or antidepressants
- Iron supplements
Constipation can be very uncomfortable, and cause bloating or abdominal pain. If you are experiencing constipation, try some of these lifestyle changes for a few days to see if your symptoms improve:
- Drink eight glasses of water a day. Your bowel needs fluids to soften and pass stools.
- Increase fiber in your diet by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid refined grains as much as possible, and look at the fiber content on food labels. Most adults should get 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Select high-fiber foods, and cut back on processed foods.
- Try walking or another exercise. Physical activity can help regulate bowel movements.
- Set aside time each day for using the bathroom, and go as soon as you feel the urge.
- Talk with your physician about medications or supplements that may be causing constipation. He or she might recommend a stool softener or laxative for short-term use. In some cases, your medications can be modified to help avoid this side effect.
Although many laxatives are available over the counter, physicians generally recommend you use them only occasionally, and only when the lifestyle changes above have not improved your symptoms. Chronic laxative use can cause you to become even more constipated.
Most people find that their constipation is greatly reduced or eliminated by following the recommendations above. If the problem persists, however, your physician may discuss additional treatment options or tests to rule out any medical conditions. Long-term constipation can be damaging to your bowel and should not be ignored.
CarePoint Health provides patients with care delivered by the area’s best and most dedicated doctors, nurses, hospitals and medical staff, with focus on preventive medicine, health care education, and disease management. To learn more about gastrointestinal health, contact CarePoint Health at 1-877-791-7000 or request an appointment online at our website.
Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.