You May Have Chronic Constipation
Almost everyone experiences occasional constipation at some point in their life, especially women. Change in diet or routine can make us constipated but, if you have trouble going for several weeks or more or go less than three times a week on average, you may suffer from chronic constipation. Learn the causes and what you can do about it.
According to the medical profession, the range of a normal frequency of bowel movements is between three per day to three per week. That’s anywhere from three to twenty-one in a weeks’ time—all considered normal. Less than 50% of the U.S. population has a bowel movement every day.
However, frequency is not the only criteria for healthy bowels. Straining, pain, trouble passing a stool; dry, hard, small or unusually large stools; and/or even diarrhea are all signs of chronic constipation.
What Causes Chronic Constipation?
One theory on the cause of constipation is too much absorption of water in your intestines after eating. As your food digests, your body takes the water and nutrients it needs, and the rest is waste. If you’re absorbing too much water, dry and hard stools are the result.
However, that’s just the scientific explanation. There are many reasons why someone may become chronically constipated:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Leaky Gut
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Hypersensitivity to certain foods
- Certain diseases
- Eating Disorders or other mental health issues
Symptoms of Chronic Constipation
Symptoms may include stomach aches or cramping, feeling bloated, nausea or vomiting, or a lack of appetite. Along with the inability or difficulty having a bowel movement, these are signs of chronic constipation.
General symptoms include:
- Hard or lumpy stools
- Going less than three times a week
- Blockage or obstruction
- Needing help to pass stool, like pushing on your abdomen, or using your fingers to expel a stool
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you may experience both diarrhea and constipation, so if you frequently have both, talk with your doctor about your symptoms so that they may correctly diagnose your situation.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make Today to Improve Your Constipation
Exercise – Getting regular exercise is important to keep you regular. Walk every day or incorporate cardio with strength training. It’s good for your muscles: all of them.
Drink More Water – It’s recommended to drink eight glasses of liquid each day, mostly water. Sparkling water (without sugar) is a great alternative to plain water and the carbonation makes it even more effective. Some beverages like coffee and tea are acceptable, especially if they are caffeinated. But anything with sugar or alcohol is constipating, so you should limit beverages like sodas. Dairy can also be constipating for some people.
Diet – Eat a diet with high-fiber, protein and healthy fats, and cut out sugar and processed foods. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber.
Make time to poop – Your body tells you when it needs to eliminate waste. If you ignore the signs, they will pass, and you may not be able to go as easily when you do make the time. Get into a routine, like first thing in the morning, or after meals.
Are Laxatives the Answer?
Only for short-term use and only as a last resort. Laxatives chemically stimulate or lubricate so you can pass a stool, either immediately or overnight. While they do provide relief, overusing laxatives can have damaging effects, such as worsening constipation.
When you continually use laxatives, your body gets used to going only when the laxative is present, making them habit-forming. There are many kinds of laxatives, from stimulant, to water-based, to pills or even enemas, so discuss with your doctor the right one for your type of constipation and how often you can safely use them.
Natural Remedies May Help
Aside from chemical laxatives, there are natural or herbal remedies that may give you temporary and occasional relief. Senna comes from a plant and is a natural laxative. It takes several hours to work, so it’s not for immediate relief. But it won’t have the side effects of other laxatives. However, if you have IBS, or other digestive issues, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not take Senna.
Flaxseed and fish oil, both high in omega-3s, have natural laxative effects. Add fatty fish to your diet, like salmon, or take supplements in pill or liquid form.
Prebiotics and probiotics feed the good gut bacteria and can help with constipation. Find supplements that contain both, as probiotics need the prebiotics to be effective. Also, fermented foods like yogurt (low sugar), kefir, and homemade sauerkraut are all good sources of probiotics.
Diet is the best way to get soluble and insoluble fiber, and you should get a combination of both.
Both soluble and insoluble fiber pass though your intestine undigested, meaning that they do not break into sugar to be stored as energy or fat. Soluble fiber absorbs water thus softening stools for better consistency, while insoluble fiber does not absorb water; instead, it adds weight and bulk for well-formed stools and speeds up moving through your intestines for more frequent bowel movements. Your body needs a combination of both kinds of fiber. Ideally, we should get 25-30 grams of fiber each day, but most people get about half of the recommended amount.
Some insoluble fiber can cause bloating and gas in some people, especially those with IBS.
Good Sources of Natural Fiber include: (Some foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber)
- Psyllium which comes in many fiber supplements
- Whole grains like barley, oats/oat bran, and amaranth
- Flaxseed and chia seeds
- Cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage
- Legumes like peas and lentils
- Apples and pears
- Beans; black, kidney, lima, navy…
- Macadamia nuts
- Fermented soy like tofu and tempeh
- Sweet potatoes
- Berries; blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries…
- Wheat bran and wheat germ
- Whole grains like sorghum, millet, and oatmeal
- Sweet Potatoes
- Sunflower seeds
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
- Coconut (unsweetened)
- Almonds and walnuts
- Apples and pears with the skin
- Dried fruits like apricots, figs, prunes, and raisins
- Okra and turnips
- Rutabaga and radishes
Risk Factors for Chronic Constipation
Certain medications, including supplements, can be constipating. If you are taking any of the following, it may be the cause of your constipation:
- Calcium carbonate and iron supplements
- Anti-inflammatory NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, naproxen (Aleve), Celebrex, fenoprofen, and aspirin
- Antihistamines like Benadryl, Zyrtec, Allegra, and Claritin
- Antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs
- Opioids and sleeping pills
- Blood pressure medication
Certain conditions and diseases make you high at risk for developing chronic constipation
- Celiac disease
- Hypercalcemia and hypocalcemia
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rectal prolapse
Other risk factors include chronic stress, age, and gender. Constipation is more frequent in woman as they age, so it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and lower your stress level.
Complications that Can Develop from Untreated Constipation
- Rectal bleeding can occur from frequent straining. The pressure to pass a painful stool over a long period of time can result in bleeding.
- Anal Fissure is a tear that develops around the anus.
- Bowel obstruction from hardened fecal matter becomes impacted or stuck.
- Hemorrhoids are swollen tissue around your anus which can burn and itch.
- Rectal prolapse where part of the bowl drops through the anus.
When you need to talk to a Doctor About your Constipation
Sooner rather than later. Try lifestyle changes first, especially in diet. General constipation should improve with healthy changes such as exercise, consuming more water, and eating fiber-rich foods. But, if your constipation isn’t improving, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
There are many causes of constipation: chronic idiopathic constipation is when the cause is unknown, which is common, but it’s important to rule out other health issues like leaky gut, IBS, or other digestive problems.
Your doctor may recommend charting your constipation so that they can get a complete picture for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
There are times when bowel issues are more serious, like pelvic floor disorders, which cause either fecal incontinence or the inability to control your bowels. If this is the case, you may want to discuss surgical options with your physician to repair your pelvic floor.
Tying it All Together
Healthy bowels are important for not only your health but also lifestyle. Getting regular exercise combined with drinking water and eating a healthy diet of high-fiber foods is the first line of defense in maintaining healthy bowels.
If your constipation is more serious, you may require medication or other options. Discuss all your issues with your doctor so you can come up with the correct plan of action for your constipation. You don’t need to suffer any longer.