The Truth About Constipation: What Causes It and How to Treat It
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If you’ve ever experienced constipation, you know it can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience.
Constipation is a common digestive problem that occurs when you have difficulty passing stool or have infrequent bowel movements.
It can be caused by a variety of factors, including diet, lack of physical activity, certain medications, dehydration, and stress.
In this article, we’ll delve into the truth about constipation, including what causes it and how to effectively treat it.
By understanding the underlying factors that contribute to constipation, you can take steps to prevent it and find long-term relief.
Whether you’re dealing with occasional constipation or chronic issues, there are natural remedies and lifestyle changes you can try to find relief.
We’ll also discuss when it’s important to see a doctor for constipation and the potential risks of not seeking treatment.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of constipation and how to manage it effectively.
What You'll Learn About Constipation
What Are The Causes of Constipation
Constipation is a common digestive problem that occurs when you have difficulty passing stool or have infrequent bowel movements. It can cause discomfort and disrupt your daily routine, and it can be caused by a variety of factors.
Here are some common causes of constipation:
- Diet: A diet low in fibre or fluids can contribute to constipation. Foods that are high in fat and processed ingredients can also slow down digestion and lead to constipation.
- Lack of physical activity: Regular exercise can help stimulate the digestive system and prevent constipation. Sedentary lifestyles or limited mobility can contribute to constipation.
- Certain medications: Some medications, such as painkillers, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications, can cause constipation as a side effect.
- Dehydration: Adequate hydration is important for proper digestion. When you’re dehydrated, your stool can become hard and difficult to pass.
- Stress: Stress and anxiety can affect your digestive system and lead to constipation.
- Other medical conditions: Constipation can also be a symptom of other medical conditions, such as thyroid conditions, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), pregnancy, and certain neurological disorders.
What Are The Symptoms of Constipation
Constipation is characterized by difficulty passing stool or having infrequent bowel movements.
Here are some common symptoms of constipation:
- Hard, dry stool: Stool that is hard and dry is more difficult to pass, and it can be painful to do so.
- Infrequent bowel movements: Having fewer than three bowel movements per week is considered constipation.
- Difficulty passing stool: You may feel like you have to strain to have a bowel movement, or you may not be able to pass stool at all.
- Abdominal pain or bloating: Constipation can cause abdominal pain or bloating as a result of the build-up of gas in the intestines.
Straining to have a bowel movement: You may need to put extra effort into passing stool, including bearing down or pushing, which can cause discomfort.
What is the bristol stool chart
The Bristol stool chart is a tool used to classify the consistency and appearance of human stool.
It is commonly used by healthcare providers to evaluate and monitor bowel movements and to identify possible digestive issues, such as constipation or diarrhea.
The Bristol stool chart consists of seven categories, each with a corresponding type of stool:
- Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (constipation)
- Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy (constipation)
- Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on the surface (normal)
- Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft (normal)
- Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (diarrhea)
- Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool (diarrhea)
- Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid (diarrhea)
The Bristol stool chart is not intended to diagnose any specific medical condition, but it can be helpful in identifying patterns and changes in bowel movements that may indicate a digestive issue. It’s important to speak with a healthcare provider if you have concerns about your bowel movements or if you experience any changes in your bowel habits.
Traditional treatments for constipation
There are several traditional treatment options for constipation, including:
- Laxatives: Laxatives are medications that help to soften the stool and stimulate the intestines to contract, which can help to move the stool through the intestines and out of the body. There are several types of laxatives, including bulk-forming laxatives, lubricant laxatives, osmotic laxatives, stimulant laxatives, and suppositories. We don’t suggest laxatives as chronic laxatives can affect the gut microbiome.
- Fibre supplements: Increasing your intake of fibre can help to bulk up the stool and make it easier to pass. Fibre supplements, such as psyllium or methylcellulose, can help to add more fibre to your diet.
- Increasing water intake: Adequate hydration is important for proper digestion. Increasing your water intake can help to soften the stool and make it easier to pass.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can help to stimulate the digestive system and prevent constipation.
Remedies for constipation
There are several natural remedies that may help to relieve constipation, including:
- Hydration: Adequate hydration is important for proper digestion. Increasing your water intake can help to soften the stool and make it easier to pass. You can also try adding fluids to your diet in the form of herbal teas or broth-based soups.
- Diet changes: Adding more fibre to your diet can help to bulk up the stool and make it easier to pass. Good sources of fibre include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Reducing your intake of foods that are high in fat and processed ingredients can also help to prevent constipation.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help to support the health of your digestive system. Some studies have shown that probiotics may help to relieve constipation by promoting regular bowel movements. You’ll learn which probiotics are best for constipation below
- Herbal teas: Certain herbal teas, such as chamomile, peppermint, or fennel, may help to relax the muscles of the intestines and stimulate the digestive system.
What are the best probiotics for constipation
Probiotics are beneficial for constipation because they can help to improve the balance of good bacteria in the gut.
This can help to support the normal functioning of the digestive system and promote the regular elimination of waste.
There are several ways that probiotics may help to relieve constipation. First, they can help to increase the amount of water in the intestine, which can help to soften stools and make them easier to pass.
Probiotics may also stimulate the muscles of the intestine, which can help to move stools through the digestive tract more efficiently.
In addition, probiotics can help to break down and ferment certain types of fibre, which can also contribute to softer, more easily eliminated stools.
They may also produce short-chain fatty acids, which can help to nourish the cells lining the intestine and support the normal functioning of the digestive system.
According to scientific research, some probiotic strains that have been shown to be effective in relieving constipation include:
- Lactobacillus plantarum: This strain has been shown to help improve bowel movements and reduce constipation in some people.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: This strain may help to reduce constipation by increasing the production of short-chain fatty acids, which can help to soften the stool.
- Bifidobacterium infantis: This strain may help to relieve constipation by increasing the production of mucus in the intestine, which can help to lubricate the stool and make it easier to pass.
Specific probiotic strains to help being constipated
- Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 – Increases stool frequency within 4 weeks and stool consistency
- Lactobacillus casei Shirota - Improve constipation severity, stool consistency
- Lactobacillus casei LCR35 – Increase defecation frequency, treatment success, reduce glycerin enema and stool hardness
- Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 – Increases bowel movement frequency; decreases discomfort, pain, bloating, incomplete defecation and defecation assistors
- B. lactis AGAL NM97/09513 & L acidophilus A TCC 700396 – Reduces colonic transit time
- L. plantarum LRCC5193 & S. thermophilus MG510 – Improves stool consistency
Foods to avoid when you’re constipated
Avoiding certain types of foods when you are constipated can help to improve your symptoms by making it easier to pass stools.
Many of the foods that may contribute to constipation are low in fibre and high in fat, which can make stools harder and more difficult to pass.
In contrast, increasing your intake of fibre-rich foods can help to soften stools and make them easier to pass.
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that is not digestible by the body.
It passes through the digestive system largely undigested and helps to bulk up the stool, making it softer and easier to pass.
There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance that can help to soften stools.
Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and helps to add bulk to the stool.
Both types of fibre are important for maintaining regular bowel movements.
In addition to increasing your intake of fibre, it may also be helpful to avoid foods that can irritate the digestive system or interfere with the normal functioning of the digestive system.
These may include alcohol, caffeine, and spicy or high-fat foods.
There are certain foods that can contribute to constipation and should be avoided if you’re experiencing this digestive problem.
Foods to avoid if you’re constipated may include:
- Gluten: There is some evidence to suggest that gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, may contribute to constipation in some people. Gluten can cause inflammation in the digestive system and may lead to constipation as a result.
- Processed foods: Foods that are high in fat and processed ingredients can slow down digestion and contribute to constipation. These may include fried foods, processed meats, and snack foods.
- Dairy products: Some people may experience constipation after consuming dairy products, especially if they are lactose intolerant.
- Bananas: While bananas are a good source of fibre, they can also contribute to constipation in some people.
- Red meat: Red meat is high in fat and can be difficult to digest, which can contribute to constipation.
- Refined grains: White bread, pasta, and other refined grains are low in fiber and may contribute to constipation.
Good Foods To Add If you're constipated
There are several foods that can help to relieve constipation by adding more fiber to your diet and promoting regular bowel movements.
Here are some good foods to add if you’re constipated:
- Fruits: Fruits such as apples, pears, and berries are high in fiber and can help to bulk up the stool and make it easier to pass.
- Vegetables: Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and peas are high in fibre and can help to relieve constipation.
Whole grains: Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice are high in fibre and can help to bulk up the stool and promote regular bowel movements.
Legumes: Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas are high in fibre and can help to relieve constipation.
Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds such as almonds, flax seeds, and chia seeds are high in fibre and can help to bulk up the stool and promote regular bowel movements.
when is constipation an emergency and you should see a doctor
While constipation is a common digestive problem that can be relieved with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter remedies, there are certain circumstances in which constipation may be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition.
It’s important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- Chronic constipation: If you’ve been constipated for several weeks or more and traditional treatment options are not providing relief, it’s important to see a doctor. Chronic constipation may be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as IBS or a blockage in the intestines.
- Rectal bleeding: If you’re experiencing rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. This may be a sign of a more serious issue, such as a hemorrhoid or a tear in the rectal lining.
- Abdominal pain that does not go away: Abdominal pain that persists or becomes severe may be a sign of a more serious issue, such as a blockage in the intestines or an inflammatory bowel disease.
It’s important to seek medical attention if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, as they may indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires treatment.
In conclusion, constipation is a common digestive problem that can cause discomfort and disrupt your daily routine.
It can be caused by a variety of factors, including diet, lack of physical activity, certain medications, dehydration, and stress.
Symptoms of constipation include difficulty passing stool, infrequent bowel movements, hard, dry stool, straining to have a bowel movement, and abdominal pain or bloating.
There are several traditional treatment options for constipation, including laxatives, fiber supplements, increasing water intake, and exercise.
There are also several natural remedies that may help to relieve constipation, including hydration, diet changes, probiotics, and herbal teas.
If you’re experiencing chronic constipation, rectal bleeding, or abdominal pain that does not go away, it’s important to see a doctor as these may be signs of a more serious underlying condition.
By understanding the underlying factors that contribute to constipation and taking steps to prevent it, you can find relief and improve your overall digestive health.