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What is Constipation?

Constipation occurs when a person has difficulty emptying the large bowel. Home remedies and lifestyle changes can often help resolve it, but sometimes, it may need medical attention.

Constipation can happen for many reasons, such as when stool passes through the colon too slowly. The slower the food moves through the digestive tract, the more water the colon will absorb and the harder the feces will become.

A person who poops fewer than 3 times per week may have constipation.

What Are the Symptoms?

You may have:

  • Few bowel movements
  • Trouble having a bowel movement (straining to go)
  • Hard or small stools
  • A sense that everything didn’t come out
  • Belly bloating

Why Does It Happen?

Some causes of constipation include:

  • Changes to what you eat or your activities
  • Not enough water or fiber in your diet
  • Eating a lot of dairy products
  • Not being active
  • Resisting the urge to poop
  • Stress
  • Overuse of laxatives
  • Some medications (especially strong pain drugs such as narcotics, antidepressants, and iron pills)
  • Antacid medicines that have calcium or aluminum
  • Eating disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Problems with the nerves and muscles in your digestive system
  • Colon cancer
  • Underactive thyroid (called hypothyroidism)

Who is at risk for constipation?

Eating a poor diet and not exercising are major risk factors for constipation. You may also be at greater risk if you’re:

Age 65 or older. Older adults tend to be less physically active, have underlying diseases, and eat poorer diets.

Confined to bed. Those who have certain medical conditions, such as spinal cord injuries, often have difficulty with bowel movements.

A woman or child. Women have more frequent episodes of constipation than men, and children are affected more often than adults.

Pregnant. Hormonal changes and pressure on your intestines from your growing baby can lead to constipation.

How to treat and prevent constipation

Changing your diet and increasing your physical activity level are the easiest and fastest ways to treat and prevent constipation. Try the following techniques as well:

  • Every day, drink water, to hydrate the body.
  • Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which cause dehydration.
  • Add fiber-rich foods to your diet, such as raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, prunes, or bran cereal. Your daily intake of fiber should be between 20 and 35 grams.
  • Cut down on low-fiber foods, such as meat, milk, cheese, and processed foods.
  • Aim for about 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, with a goal of 30 minutes per day at least five times per week. Try walking, swimming, or biking.
  • If you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, don’t delay. The longer you wait, the harder your stool can become.
  • Add fiber supplements to your diet if needed. Just remember to drink plenty of fluids because fluids help fiber work more efficiently.

If you still have trouble with constipation, your doctor may prescribe medications to help.

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