Everyone gets constipated now and then. Constipation can be uncomfortable and even downright painful. And when you can’t move your bowels, it affects your sense of well-being.
Fortunately, there are several natural ways to relieve constipation at home. Here’s what you need to know about this common problem.
When it comes to bowel movements, people have different patterns. You may go once every two days, while another family member goes three times each day. Both fall within the normal range.
Doctors define constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements a week.
Other symptoms of constipation include:
- Feeling “backed up”.
- Passing hard, dry, or lumpy stools.
- Straining to have a bowel movement.
- Having pain when passing stools.
- Feeling like you didn’t empty your bowels completely.
Constipation is common, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. About 16 of every 100 adults has symptoms of constipation at any given time. Among adults over 60, it’s 33 out of 100.
Constipation is not a disease. Sometimes it’s the result of a poor diet and not enough exercise. Sometimes it’s a symptom of another medical problem like irritable bowel syndrome.
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Causes of Constipation
There’s not one single cause of constipation. Dehydration, changes in your diet, or being sedentary for long periods of time can trigger constipation. So can having limited access to bathrooms (such as during travel).
You may become constipated for overlapping reasons, like not drinking enough water and being pregnant.
Here are some common causes of constipation.
Poor nutritional choices
If you eat a diet heavy in fast food, frozen meals, and meat, you are more likely to have constipation. Not drinking enough water is also a prime cause of constipation.
Medicines and dietary supplements
Constipation can be a side effect of some drugs. They include:
- Antacids containing aluminum and calcium.
- Iron supplements.
- Medicines used to prevent seizures.
- Narcotic pain medicines.
- Drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
- Some medicines used to treat depression.
You may get constipated after a change in routine, or as a simple result of getting older and moving less. You may experience a backed-up digestive system when:
- You’re pregnant.
- You travel.
- Your doctor changes your medications.
- You ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
- There’s a major change in your diet.
Injuries or medical conditions
Some medical conditions make constipation more likely. They include:
- Pelvic floor disorders, especially in women.
- Colon surgery.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Celiac disease.
- Disorders of the brain and spine, such as Parkinson’s disease.
- Injuries of the brain and spine.
- Diabetes and other conditions that affect your metabolism.
- Hypothyroidism and other conditions that affect your hormones.
- Blockage due to a tumor.
- Diverticular disease.
Natural Ways to Relieve Constipation
The good news is that there are many ways to find natural constipation relief. Most cases of constipation can get better with home treatments. These are the best strategies for at home constipation relief.
Eat more fiber
Fiber keeps your digestive system moving. Most adults need 22 to 34 grams of fiber a day. Good sources of fiber are:
- Whole wheat bread and pasta.
- Whole grains, such as oatmeal and quinoa.
Drink more water
Adults should aim for at least six to eight glasses of water per day. Staying hydrated is good for your overall health, and it can also help you avoid constipation. Water works with the fiber in your system to make your stools softer and easier to pass.
Try natural remedies
These specific foods and spices may help ease constipation.
- Prune juice or dried prunes are high in fiber and sorbitol, which draws water into the stool. Other dried fruits high in fiber are apricots, figs, and raisins.
- Hot beverages (coffee, tea, or warm lemon water) can often jumpstart the digestive system.
- Ginger may help decrease symptoms of constipation, such as bloating, nausea, and cramps.
- Clear soups and broths add moisture to stools. Warm foods are easier for the body to process.
- Foods high in probiotic bacteria, such as sauerkraut and yogurt, may help reduce constipation. Probiotics may make your stools softer and speed digestion.
- Fennel, a natural laxative, increases gastric enzymes in the digestive tract. These enzymes make your stools softer and easier to pass.
Exercise is one of the best ways to stimulate a sluggish digestive system. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking, biking, or swimming five times per week.
Listen to your body
When you have the urge to have a bowel movement, don’t wait. Withholding stool causes it to back up and become hard, making constipation worse.
Try over-the-counter products
If changing your diet and exercise habits don’t help, you can try a fiber supplement like Metamucil. These supplements add bulk and water to your stools so they can pass easily.
Laxatives can help now and then. But don’t take laxatives for an extended period without talking to your doctor. Your bowels may become dependent on laxatives to function.
When Should You See Your Doctor for Constipation Relief?
If you haven’t had a bowel movement in four or five days, you should call your doctor. You should also call your doctor if you’re still experiencing constipation after three weeks of treating it at home. They may be able to prescribe medicine to help relieve your symptoms.
Sometimes constipation goes hand-in-hand with other medical problems. You should call your doctor right away if you feel constipated and:
- Have rectal bleeding.
- Notice blood or white mucous in your stool.
- Have pain in your abdomen that doesn’t go away.
- Can’t pass gas.
- Are vomiting.
- Have a fever.
- Have lower back pain.
- Have been losing weight without trying to.
These other symptoms could be signs of a more serious problem. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and run some tests to learn more.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Constipation, Link
National Library of Medicine, Constipation, Link
American Academy of Family Physicians, Constipation, Link
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, Constipation, Link
Bladderandbowel.org, 8 Remedies to Relieve Constipation, Link
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