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Digestive Health 101: What is Constipation?

Sep 23, 2021

Digestive Health 101: What is Constipation?

Infrequent bowel movements, or passing hard, dry stools, are signs of constipation. This condition not only causes sluggishness, physical pain and discomfort, but also leaves you irritable and your brain foggy for weeks, if not months. Follow this guide to learn about its causes and symptoms, and to find the best treatment for constipation.

What is Constipation?

A healthy person poops two to three times a day or at least three times a week. Less bowel movements, as well as longer trips to the bathroom to pass stool, are clear signs of constipation. In many cases, constipation can be attributed to poor diet, but there are many other factors that may also cause it, including intestinal obstruction, certain medications and poor lifestyle habits, among others.

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation is often caused by the slow movement of food through the digestive tract. Its slow traverse leaves the colon to absorb too much water from it after the small intestine has absorbed the essential nutrients needed by the body, resulting in hard, dry stools that are difficult to eliminate from the rectum. Numerous factors can contribute to constipation, including:

Insufficient dietary fiber

The main cause of constipation is eating low-fiber, highly processed foods, such as white rice and white bread. In addition, a diet high in refined sugar and trans fats should also be avoided at all costs if constipation symptoms are present.  

Lack of fluid intake

The less water you drink, the more likely you are to be constipated. When you are not properly hydrated, your body will absorb water from your colon, causing dry, hard stools.

Lack of exercise

Physical inactivity can result in constipation as it causes the intestinal muscles and nerves to be restricted, which slows down their activity.

Medical conditions

Several diseases have been established to cause constipation, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), coeliac disease, bowel cancer and hypothyroidism. Constipation in patients with diabetes is also very common, as the condition damages the nerves that control the digestive tract, specifically the vagus nerve. 

Prescription medications

There are several types of drugs that slow down the colon's ability to move waste, including painkillers, sedatives, medications for blood clots, and so many others. In fact, studies show that a high percentage of cancer patients suffer from opioid-induced constipation. Long-term use of prescription drugs does not only make constipation worse, but it also leads to a host of other side effects. 

What are Common Symptoms of Constipation?

Constipation symptoms differ from person to person, depending on its severity or duration. Some people may feel discomfort when passing stool, while others may describe it as an ordeal. The following signs point to constipation:

  • Having fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • Passing dry, lumpy, hard stools
  • Pain in pelvic floor muscles, usually due to exertion
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction due to incomplete emptying
  • Irritability
  • Nausea

How Do You Treat or Prevent Constipation?

Making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle is key to alleviating the symptoms of constipation or eliminating it for good. If you suffer from chronic constipation, you should see a doctor to check for underlying conditions that may be contributing to it. Below are tried-and-tested ways to ensure easy, regular bowel movements.

Increase fiber intake

High-fiber foods, such as whole-grain bread, can help relieve constipation. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber every day, while men should get 30 grams. Other excellent sources of fiber are brown rice, berries, cereal, nuts, leafy greens and avocados.

Drink plenty of water

Fluids allow your body to expel waste and toxins efficiently. Aim to consume 1.5 liters of clean drinking water each day. Don't wait until you're extremely thirsty before you drink water. That's a sign of dehydration. 

Get regular exercise

Make sure you are exercising every day, whether in a gym, a park, or at home. When in doubt about what workout is safe for you because of a medical condition, talk to your primary healthcare provider. You can also find natural health professionals who use exercise to heal the body.  

Maintain healthy bowel habits

Having a bowel movement should not be delayed. Holding in waste can cause constipation and other gastrointestinal disorders. Just go and empty it out once you feel the urge.

If all else fails, get in touch with a natural health practitioner on the Natural Therapy Pages to make the "going" process easier and faster. You can also check out this article to learn about natural treatments for constipation.

FAQs About Constipation

Should I keep eating if I'm constipated?

Yes, but only certain foods. Eat whole grain foods as these are rich in fiber and will help move waste and clear your colon faster. It can be tempting to fast, especially when you feel bloated, but this will only make your condition worse.

What is considered severe constipation?

In severe constipation, bowel movements are fewer than three per week. There must be a way to eliminate the accumulated waste in your body, otherwise it may cause a number of medical conditions.

What drinks make you poop?

The best beverage to consume when constipated is water, but prune and pear juice contain natural laxatives that can soften stool and relieve constipation. Apple juice is another beneficial drink, but it contains a high level of fructose, so drink it in moderation.

Related Topics

Digestion,  Nutrition,  Dieting

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