Becky Yoza, DNP
Becky has 14 years combined experience in medical/surgical and emergency nursing. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate nursing at Hawaii Pacific University. Originally a sociologist, Becky trained as a nurse to gain knowledge for her research, but she ended up loving nursing so much she never went back! Born and raised in Michigan, Becky has lived in Hawaii since 2010 and never wants to leave.
Many people face the common problem of constipation. It occurs when one is unable to pass stools daily. Or faces pain in passing hard stools (feces). Lack of fiber in our diet and dehydration mainly causes this issue. There is prescription medicine for constipation available.
Many people face the common problem of constipation. It occurs when one is unable to pass stools daily. Or faces pain in passing hard stools (feces). Lack of fiber in our diet and dehydration mainly causes this issue. It can be a side effect of medicines. Or it could be due to an underlying medical condition. There is prescription medicine for constipation. The treatment of constipation is by laxatives. It is a group of medicines that are easily available. To avoid constipation follow a healthy lifestyle. Do this by eating healthy fiber-rich food and drinking plenty of fluids.
Eat foods that contain plenty of fiber & drink 2 liters of water per day
Fiber (roughage) is the part of plant food that is indigestible but adds bulk and softness to the stools. Slowly increase the fiber content in your diet. For example, through salads, fruits, bran. Increase the fiber content over a period of one week. Initially one encounters bloating of the stomach and excessive wind. However, once the gut acclimates to a fibrous diet, the bloating and gas reduces. Physicians recommend starting with 30 grams of fiber per day with about 8 to 10 cups of water. The excess water will pass as urine and the absorbed water in the gut softens the stools and aids digestion. In addition, avoid alcohol as it leads to a lack of fluid in the body (dehydration).
Including sorbitol in your diet
Sorbitol is a naturally occurring sugar that is indigestible. This absorbs water and remains in the gut. As a result, the stools get soft and ease constipation. For example, fruits and natural fruit juices have high sorbitol content.
Fruits with high sorbitol content:
Apples, apricots, gooseberries, and grapes have high sorbitol content. In addition, pears, plums, prunes, raspberries and strawberries also have high sorbitol content.
Dried fruits like raisins contain 5-10 times higher sorbitol compared to fresh fruit. Eat these dried fruits as snacks or in between meals. Prunes are very effective to treat constipation. Consume six prunes twice a day and say goodbye to constipation.
Regular exercise is important
Physical activity is important to keep your gut moving. Regular exercise aids digestion and helps prevent constipation. Bed-ridden people or disabled persons often face problems of constipation more than active people.
Maintain a toilet routine
Never suppress the urge to visit the toilet to pass stools. The stools become backlogged and harden inside the rectum if delayed for a long time. This results in painful defecation later on.
Ideally, the best time to go to the toilet is first thing in the morning or after about 30 minutes after a meal. The movement of stools through the lower bowel is greatest in the mornings. This is due to the gastrocolic reflex. One should visit the toilet once awake. Do not rush to use the toilet. One should spend ample time on the toilet seat ensuring that the bowels are empty. Squatting is the best posture to pass stools. For western-style toilet seats, one can use a small footstool under the legs to help in posture. The best posture is to relax, lean forward and rest your elbows on your thighs. Gently rub your back in case of hard stools. One should not strain or hold the breath while passing stools.
Even if diet and lifestyle changes do not help, try taking laxatives to ease the discomfort. Laxatives are medicines that ease constipation. Stop taking laxatives once the stools (feces) become soft and easier to pass. Chronic constipation occurs when the problem persists for at least 12 weeks out of the past 6 months. If you suffer from long term chronic or persistent constipation, visit your physician.
Complications due to constipation
Sometimes a minor tear in the soft anal skin (an anal fissure) can occur during the passage of hard stools. This can be painful with some fresh blood spots on the toilet paper. Severe or chronic constipation results in fecal impaction. Fecal impaction is where a large mass of hard feces blocks the rectum. This mass stretches the rectum. It may cause fecal incontinence. Fecal incontinence is where one loses control over liquid feces leaking out. You should visit your doctor who will examine the anus and remove the hard blocking fecal matter.
Constipation during pregnancy
Constipation is very common during pregnancy. Changing the diet to include more fibrous food and drinking plenty of fluid throughout the day, eases symptoms. Daily physical activity and regular walk help ease the condition. Consult your doctor before consuming any prescription medicine for constipation or laxatives, to be safe.
Other reasons for constipation
Certain medicines can cause constipation as a side-effect. Such as regular use of painkillers and antidepressants. Additionally, iron tablets cause constipation as a side effect. Medical conditions like an under active thyroid gland and Irritable bowel syndrome can cause constipation. Similarly, diverticular diseases, Colon cancer, can also cause constipation.
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