5 Cures for Constipation

At some point in time, nearly everyone will suffer from constipation. The problem occurs most frequently in women and the elderly, and while it's usually not serious, chronic bouts of constipation shouldn't be ignored. Although the normal range of bowel movements varies greatly among individuals, going longer than three days without a bowel movement is a signal that something is amiss. (The medical definition of constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements a week.) You may also be considered constipated if you pass hard stools, have difficulty passing stools (straining), or have a sense of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement.

You are considered constipated if you have two or more of these symptoms for at least three months:

  • Straining during a bowel movement more than 25 percent of the time
  • Having hard stools more than 25 percent of the time
  • Having two or fewer bowel movements in a week

Although being constipated can be upsetting, the problem is almost always a disorder of bowel function rather than a structural problem and may be caused by:

  • Inadequate water intake
  • A diet low in fiber
  • A disruption in your daily routine, such as traveling
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Stress
  • The overuse of laxatives, which, over time, can weaken the bowel muscles
  • Antacid medications containing calcium or aluminum
  • Certain medications, including narcotics and antidepressants
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pregnancy

However, constipation can also be the sign of a serious disease such as colon cancer.

If you are constipated, these five tips can help:

1. Drink plenty of fluids (unless you're on a fluid-restricted diet), especially water and fruit juices. Try for six to eight glasses of water a day in addition to your beverages with meals

2. Increase aerobic activity such as walking, biking, etc.

3. Increase the amount of fiber in your diet, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. You can also try fiber supplements, including wheat bran and psyllium

4. Eat more prunes and drink prune juice

5. Try, on a temporary basis, a mild stool softener such as Peri-Colace. Do not use over-the-counter stool softeners for more than two weeks without talking with your doctor. Also, check with your doctor before using any over-the-counter laxatives, because their long-term use may damage the lining of your bowel and injure nerve endings in the colon

When to Call Your Doctor

See your doctor if your constipation lasts longer than two weeks, and seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Severe pain with bowel movements
  • Weight loss without dieting