Constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week, however it can vary slightly between patient to patient as to what they define as their normal (MayoClinic). The signs and symptoms of constipation include straining during a bowel movement, passing fewer stools than normal, having lumpy or hard stools or feeling as if there is a blockage or that you cannot empty your bowels. There are several ways that one can help relieve constipation, both naturally and medically.
Eating high fiber foods can aid in constipation as it can help add bulk and soften the stool. Some common foods that are high in fiber include apples, dried prunes, lentils, bran cereal, avocados and almonds. In addition to promoting a healthy lifestyle, adding exercise into your daily routine can also decrease the amount of constipation. Exercise engages the muscles throughout your body, which can help stimulate the colon to move food through your body. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help relieve constipation by softening the stool and allowing it to be passed. It is recommended to drink eight 8oz glasses of water daily. Prune juice is also another natural remedy, acting as a natural laxative and adding more liquid into your digestive system.
There are also several over the counter medications that you can purchase to help relieve constipation. Miralax is an osmotic laxative that works by having the intestines absorb more water than they normally would, which hydrates the stool allowing it to be passed with ease. Miralax works typically within the first 1-2 hours after drinking it. Another laxative that is available over the counter includes Metamucil, which is a bulk-forming laxative. Metamucil works by adding fiber to the stools, adding bulk and thus creating much larger stools which stimulate the body’s response to have a bowel movement. Colace is also available over the counter and works in a similar way to Miralax, by increasing the amount of water in the stool allowing it to be passed easier. Colace doesn’t work as quickly as Miralax, having an effect in 24 hours. You can also purchase an enema kit from your local drug store, following the instructions on the box.
If you have tried the above lifestyle modifications and over the counter medications, seek care from your provider, as they may be able to prescribe a more rigorous medication regimen or be able to search for underlying medical problems causing constipation.
This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.
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April 8, 2023