Defecation or passing stool is vital for maintaining optimal health. Passing at least three or more bowel movements indicates good gut health and ensures that your bowels are working fine. Constipation may occur when fecal matter hardens up in the colon and becomes difficult to flush out of the body.
Statistics suggest that 16 out of every 100 people in the US suffer from constipation, and the figure doubles for those above the age of 60 years. If you consider yourself as one of these people who struggle to open their bowels regularly, many medical and non-medical ways are there to assist you.
In this article, we will discuss constipation in general, while focusing on different remedies to kickstart your dormant gut and treat your constipated bowels.
An Overview of Constipation and its Most Common Symptoms
Anyone can face difficulty in pooping from time to time, but for some, it may become a chronic problem. As per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK), constipation may include:
- Stools that are dry, hard, or lumpy
- Stools that are painful or difficult to pass
- Having less than three bowel movements in a week
- A feeling of incomplete bowel emptying
Just having any one of the above mentioned symptoms is usually enough to be considered constipated. But when should you attempt to seek help for constipation? Sources recommend going for medical advice if the symptoms do not go away after some time or you start noticing the following symptoms:
- Pain in the lower back
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Blood in stool
- Fever and vomiting
- A sudden change in bowel movements
- Unexplained weight loss
- A feeling of having gas in your belly
- A sudden and noticeable change in bowel movements
Diagnosing Constipation: What is the Criterion?
The tests performed for diagnosing constipation depend on the severity and duration of constipation. A healthcare professional will also take into account the age of the patient as well as other factors like blood in stools, weight loss, and altered bowel habits. Depending on these factors, the diagnostic process for constipation may include:
A doctor may ask you to describe your constipation in-depth, particularly focusing on the symptoms along with their duration and frequency of bowel movements. They may also ask questions about your lifestyle and dietary habits to point out any potential causes.
The physical examination for constipation usually involves a digital rectal examination (DRE). During a DRE, a lubricated and gloved finger is gently inserted into the patient’s rectum to check the muscle tone at the anus. This test also rules out any obstruction, tenderness, and blood while helping the doctor measure the caliber of stool.
If a doctor fails to establish a potential cause or in case of longstanding constipation that doesn’t respond to therapy, the following tests might also be required:
- Anorectal function tests
- Colorectal transit study
- Barium enema
- Abdominal x-ray
Treating Constipation With Traditional Medicine
There are multiple treatments available to treat constipation. A doctor may choose any one of these modalities depending on:
- Your age, medical history, and overall health status
- Severity of constipation
- Expectations for the course of this issue
- Your tolerance for certain medicines, therapies, and procedures
- Your personal opinion or preference
The potential medical interventions for constipation may include:
A doctor may prescribe any one of the following medicines to treat constipation:
· Prucalopride: A medicine that helps the colon push stool in case of constipation with an unknown cause
· Lonaclotide: A medicine that regulates bowel movements, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation
· Lubiprostone: A medicine that increases the amount of fluid in the digestive tract, reduces abdominal pain, softens stool, and increases the frequency of bowel movements
If your constipation is because of issues with the muscles controlling bowel movements, biofeedback therapy may help. This technique helps retrain these muscles so that you can gain better control of your bowel movements and regulate their frequency.
Sometimes, a doctor may recommend undergoing surgery to treat constipation, especially if it’s because of rectal prolapse. Surgery may also be warranted in cases where no other treatment is working to relieve constipation. Remember to ask your doctor about the potential risks and benefits of surgery before making a decision.
Curing Constipation Naturally: Home Remedies to Swear By
Apart from the traditional medical ways, many lifestyle and dietary changes can also relieve constipation. Some of the home remedies to implement these changes are mentioned below:
#1 - Drink more water
Water is an important component of our body and a regulator of many processes, including digestion. Evidence suggests that there is no universal recommendation for daily water intake since there are so many factors involved in determining the hydration status of an individual, such as sex and age. However, most experts agree on around 15.5 cups of water for men and 11.5 cups for women to maintain good hydration status which includes fluids entering the body through food items. If you exclude the fluids coming from foods, the daily water requirements for men and women come down to 13 and 9 cups, respectively.
#2 - Consume more fiber
Fiber is not only responsible for improving digestive health but also reduces the risk of hypertension, stroke, heart disease, along with other gastrointestinal issues such as constipation. Despite all these benefits, surveys suggest that as little as 5 percent of the American population gets enough fiber on a daily basis.
The US Department of Agriculture suggests aiming for 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories consumed per day. This rule applies to everyone over the age of two years to regulate their bowels and prevent constipation. By this formula, the total daily fiber intake for women is around 25 to 28 grams while for men, it goes up to 34 grams.
Following are some good sources of getting fiber through natural foods:
- Fresh vegetables, including green peas, carrots, collard greens, and broccoli
- Fresh fruit, including apples (with skin), berries, pears, and oranges
- Whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, and bran flake cereals
- Legumes, including black beans, soybeans, chickpeas, and kidney beans
#3 - Exercise frequently
According to a 2019 study, researchers found that exercise carries significant benefits for improving constipation along with its symptoms. While more research is required to confirm this association, many believe that movement does affect the process of digestion positively by helping the food contents and stool move along the digestive tract. So consider exercising every day at the gym or through simpler activities like a walk through the neighborhood or taking stairs instead of an elevator.
#4 - Try a low FODMAP diet
FODMAP is short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These names refer to sugars in the everyday diet that carry the potential to trigger gut symptoms in some people. A low-FODMAP diet means following a dietary plan that eliminates these foods followed by slowly reintroducing the troublesome foods, such as milk, beans, and certain fruit. This process of elimination and reintroduction helps you figure out which foods are making you constipated so that you can eliminate them from your diet permanently. You can easily follow a low-FODMAP diet plan at home under the supervision of a registered dietitian.
#5 - Consider taking probiotics
Probiotic-rich foods, including kimchi, kefir, and yogurt, contain beneficial gut bacteria that can ease constipation. These probiotics work by softening the stools while increasing the frequency of bowel moments. A recent study concluded in 2022 also identified a type of probiotic bacteria called Lactobacillus plantarum that specifically carries the potential to relieve constipation. Gut health is instrumental to healthy bowl movements.
#6 - Reduce the stress levels
Stress is one of the biggest risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common cause of constipation, as per NIDDK. Hence, cutting back on stress levels is crucial for keeping constipation at bay or managing its active flare-up. One way to do so is through yoga which potentially relieves constipation by reducing stress levels. Others suggest performing twisting movements or placing pressure on the abdomen to manage the symptoms of constipation.
#7 - Consider getting bowel training
Did you know that you can train your nervous system to manage chronic constipation? Known as bowel training, the technique involves multiple suggestions, such as trying to pass stool at the same time every day, such as after breakfast. Moreover, you may consider placing your feet on a stool as you pass stool as it helps relax the muscles of your pelvic floor and reduce the time you spend in the bathroom.
#8 - Try natural laxatives
Try using natural food-based laxatives to make the passage of stool easier. These laxatives are of different types and include:
- Natural laxatives, including psyllium seeds that increase by attracting water to the intestines to soften the stool and add volume to it.
- Anorectal laxatives such as anal douching.
- Irritating laxatives like castor oil
Avoid using irritating laxatives unless nothing else seems to work as the experience may be a bit unpleasant for many.
In a Nutshell
As common as the problem of constipation may sound, it can be extremely uncomfortable and equally debilitating. Chronic constipation, in particular, can greatly disturb the overall quality of living and the ability to function normally in many aspects of everyday life. Fortunately, there are many interventions and simple remedies to manage this issue. With simple everyday changes, like exercising, eating more fiber, and drinking more water, it is possible to awaken your dormant bowels and regulate its functions without any potential side effects or risks.