When a person is constipated they struggle to defecate normally. They may strain while trying to pass stool and may spend hours in the bathroom trying to excrete waste. If you have gone over three days without passing a stool then you may be dealing with serious constipation.
The longer you go without defecating, the harder it will become to relieve your bowels. Constipation may be caused by a sedentary lifestyle, a poor diet and/or dehydration.
Irritable bowel syndrome, pregnancy, certain medications, excess dairy and/or colon cancer are also possible causes of constipation. If you are constipated then you should drink three to four glasses of additional water per day.
Bran cereal, prunes and drinking warm liquids during the morning may help you become more regular. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits may promote regularity, and daily exercise will stimulate the intestinal muscles, helping reduce constipation.
Here, however, our focus will be on how eating more dietary fibre can help with constipation.
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What are the symptoms of constipation?
Passing fewer than three stools a week is a telltale sign that you are constipated. In fact, some people may pass three stools a day, which is actually considered normal. Hard stools or stools that appear lumpy may also be symptoms of constipation.
In addition, straining to pass stool is not normal, and is usually a sign that you are constipated. In fact, persistent straining may also lead to hemorrhoids which can be quite painful. Stomach pain or cramps may also indicate that something is amiss with your colon or intestinal tract.
What are the causes of constipation and how can it be prevented?
Most of us will become constipated at some point in our lives. Acute constipation will usually get better naturally. However, if you are suffering from chronic constipation then you should see your doctor.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and will go over your medical records. They will also evaluate your medications and determine if you are currently dealing with any underlying conditions that may be causing your constipation.
A full physical can be carried out, including an exam of your rectum. Blood tests will also be performed in order to check your thyroid function, as well as your electrolytes and blood count.
If they are still unable to deduce the source of your problem then they may need to perform a colorectal transit study. Also known as a marker study, a colorectal transit study assesses how quickly food moves through the colon.
You will be asked to swallow a capsule that contains markers that will appear on a radiograph. Other tests that may be done include a barium enema x-ray, anorectal manometry and a colonoscopy.
If you are interested in preventing constipation in the first place, then there are a few lifestyle changes that you can make. For instance, you can make changes to some of the medications you are taking.
Doses may need to be increased or decreased, or you may be able to switch to another medication that does not cause constipation as a side effect.
Eating a diet that is high in dietary fibre can also help prevent constipation, and staying adequately hydrated throughout the day may help as well. Getting regular exercise may relieve constipation, and adding probiotics to your diet may promote regularity.
What are the best types of fibre to get rid of constipation?
Whole-grain pasta, cereals and bread can help get rid of constipation. Most cereal fibres have cell walls that not only retain water within cells but also resist digestion. As for natural laxatives, wheat bran is considered one of the best.
According to the American Diabetic Association, the average American obtains 15 grams of fibre per day which is well below the daily recommended intake.
Men under the age of 51 should try to ingest 38 grams of fibre per day, while women under 51 should try to get 25 grams per day. Men over 51 should get about 30 grams, while women over 51 should eat about 21 grams.
Fresh legumes and fruits serve as natural sources of fibre. Examples include lentils, beans and prunes. Citrus fruits and legumes actually stimulate colonic flora growth, which helps augment the amount of bacteria in excrement and also increases the weight of the stool.
If you are in need of constipation relief then speak to your doctor, dietician or nutritionist to find out what’s causing your constipation.
When All Else Fails
While constipation can be an embarrassing problem, you do not need to suffer in silence. Most peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas are high in fibre. Fibre is a nutrient that helps promote digestion in order to reduce constipation.
Cooked pulses are very high in fibre, zinc, folate, vitamin B6 and potassium, which are all vitamins and minerals that help reduce constipation.
If changes to your lifestyle and diet are not sufficient to alleviate your constipation then your doctor may recommend that you take laxatives. Natural laxatives include aloe vera, castor, oil and magnesium citrate supplements.
Simulants include Dulcolax, while mineral oil may be used as a lubricant. You may also be prescribed a stool softener such as Colace. A bulk-forming laxative may also help, such as FiberCon, or a water-retention laxative may be prescribed, such as Milk of Magnesia.
Different laxatives work differently in order to provide the patient with relief. For example, osmotic laxatives are designed to increase the quantity of liquid in the large bowel via osmosis.
Stool softeners work by both softening and wetting fecal matter, while stimulant laxatives help activate the nerves in the rectum and colon. As for bulk-forming laxatives, they increase the bulk of stools much the same as fibre.
Once the bulk increases, the gut muscles are stimulated in order to squeeze the stools out of the body. Please speak to your health care professional in order to determine which diet, exercise and supplements will best help treat your constipation.