When You Just Can’t Go: Understanding Constipation

When it comes to bowel habits, normal is different for everyone.

For some people having a bowel movement once every two days is normal, while for others, three times a day is normal.

You know what is normal for you. When you find yourself going less frequently than usual, or when your bowel movements are hard, dry, or painful to pass, then you are constipated.

The most frequent causes of constipation are fairly simple and straightforward: you may be dehydrated, not eating enough fiber, not being active enough, or it could be a side effect of a medication.

Misusing laxatives can also lead to constipation as your system can “forget” how to go on its own.

To prevent and treat constipation, make sure that you are consuming an adequate amount of liquids each day. If your urine is pale yellow in color, then you are probably drinking enough liquid; if it is darker, that is a good sign that you are dehydrated.

Most of us need more fiber in our diet. Good sources of fiber are whole grain products, leafy green vegetables, fruit and legumes, such as beans. When choosing grain products, avoid products that say they are made from “wheat flour,” or “enriched wheat flour.”

Neither of these indicates whole grains. Look for products that say “100% whole wheat,” or “whole grain oats,” for example.

Try to include four to five servings of whole grains in your diet each day, along with two servings of leafy green vegetables, and three additional servings of fruits and vegetables.

Choose whole fruits and vegetables over juice. You should also be having several daily servings of healthy fat, such as olive oil.

If you are not getting enough fiber in your diet, you can take a fiber or bulk forming laxative, such as Metamucil, or a vegetable laxative such as Senokot.[Fiber diet]

You can also use over-the-counter glycerin suppositories. Follow the package directions exactly, and be sure to drink plenty of water.

Do not use any laxative more frequently or for a longer period of time than recommended on the package directions unless you are instructed to do so by your health care provider.

If you have been using laxatives more frequently that called for according to directions, talk with your health care provider. You should know that it can take months for your system to reestablish its natural rhythms.

Using a small stool to elevate your feet while you are sitting on the toilet can help you move your bowels. Avoid straining, which can lead to hemorrhoids.

If you suspect your constipation may be due to medications you are taking, talk with your health care provider. You may be able to change medications.