What is constipation?
Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent than normal. The frequency or time between bowel movements ranges from person to person. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement, however, is too long. After three days, stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass.
What causes constipation?
Constipation is a result of stool spending too much time in the colon. The colon absorbs too much water from the stool, making it hard and dry. This hard, dry stool is what makes the rectum muscles work overtime to push it out of the body.
Constipation’s infamous accomplices include:
- A low fiber diet
- Not drinking enough water
- Lack of exercise
- Travel or another change in routine
- Eating large amounts of milk or cheese
- Stress or resisting the urge to have a bowel movement
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Neurologic disorders including spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Slow transit of the colon
How can I prevent an encounter with constipation?
Protecting yourself from a confrontation with this dreaded opponent include:
- Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber. Good sources of fiber include: fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grain breads, bran (eat bran cereal or add bran cereal to other foods like yogurt)
- Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day
- Exercising regularly
- Moving your bowels when you feel the urge
What if constipation is extending his visit?
If you are experiencing constipation, there are a few ways to treat it.
- Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day
- Try warm liquids, especially in the morning
- Add fruits and vegetables to your diet
- Eat prunes and/or bran cereal
- Add supplemental fiber to your diet (there are several types, such as Metamucil, Citrucel, and Benefiber).
If needed, using a mild stool softener or laxative can help you get your bowel movements flowing. Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your health care provider, as laxative overuse can aggravate your symptoms.
Should I call for back-up?
Should your battle with constipation continue, call your health care provider if:
- Constipation is a new problem for you
- You have blood in your stool
- You are losing weight unintentionally
- You have severe pain with bowel movements
- Your constipation has lasted more than three weeks
Trouble pooping can be a real drag, but being educated can help prevent unnecessary pain.
Stay tuned for our final part of the “Scoop on Poop” blog series to hear about constipation’s alter ego: diarrhea.
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