Understanding and Managing Constipation: Tips for a Healthy Digestive System

gut health Oct 16, 2023

Constipation is a common digestive issue that affects people of all ages. It occurs when bowel movements become less frequent or difficult to pass.

  

If you didn't know how you defecate (poop), we're going to talk about it right now. In a normal bowel movement, residual chyme (partly digested food and gastric juices) moves in both directions within the colon (large intestines), allowing for adequate absorption of fluid and electrolyte. Yes, it moves up and down the colon. Mass movements occurs when there is a substantial contraction of a large portion of the colon. This generally will occur several times a day to move a large portion of contents through your colon . When it does you get the urge to defecate, and the bowel movement results in distention of the rectum which relaxes the anal sphincter. When this process doesn't flow well constipation occurs.

 

While occasional constipation is usually not a cause for concern, chronic constipation can lead to discomfort and impact overall well-being. In this blog post, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and effective strategies for managing constipation to promote a healthy digestive system.

 

Causes of Constipation

Types of constipation are often characterized as normal-transit constipation, pelvic floor dysfunction, and slow-transit constipation. Constipation may also be a secondary symptom to other conditions or diseases, including:

 

  • Obesity

  • Pregnancy

  • Physical Inactivity - A sedentary lifestyle can slow down bowel movements and contribute to constipation.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Inadequate fiber intake: A diet low in fiber can contribute to constipation as fiber adds bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass.

  • Insufficient fluid intake: Dehydration can lead to harder stools, making them more difficult to pass.

  • Medications: Certain medications, such as diuretics, pain medications or opioids, calcium or aluminum antacids, some antidepressants, antihistamines, iron supplements, and calcium supplements can cause constipation as a side effect.

  • Medical conditions: Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, disorders of the thyroid such as hypothyroidism, lupus, Scleroderma, and neurological disorders can contribute to constipation.

 
Symptoms of Constipation

Common symptoms of constipation for the last 3 months with symptom onset at least 6 months before diagnosis:

  • Infrequent bowel movements (less than three times a week)

  • Difficulty passing stools at least 25% of the time

  • Hard, dry stools at least 25% of the time

  • Abdominal bloating or discomfort at least 25% of the time

  • Straining during bowel movements and using manual maneuvers to facility at least 25% of defecations

  • Feeling of incomplete evacuation at least 25% of the time

  • Loose stools are rarely present without the use of laxatives

 
Tips for Managing Constipation:

  • Increase Fiber Intake: Incorporate fiber-rich foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Aim for at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day.

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to keep stools soft and easy to pass.

  • Regular Physical Activity: Engage in regular exercise or physical activity to stimulate bowel movements and promote healthy digestion.

  • Establish a Routine: Set aside time each day for a bowel movement, as this can help regulate your digestive system.

  • Avoid Holding Back: Respond to the natural urge to have a bowel movement and avoid delaying or ignoring it.

  • Consider Probiotics: Probiotics, found in fermented foods or supplements, can help promote a healthy gut microbiome and improve bowel regularity.

  • Manage Stress: High levels of stress can contribute to constipation. Incorporate stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga into your routine.

  • Review Medications: If you suspect that a medication is causing constipation, consult with your healthcare provider to explore alternative options.

  • Seek Professional Help: If constipation persists or is accompanied by severe pain, bleeding, or weight loss, it is important to consult with your primary care provider for a proper diagnosis, and referral to a licensed dietitian nutritionist for a treatment plan.


When to Seek Medical Attention:

While most cases of constipation can be managed with lifestyle changes, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience: 

  • Persistent constipation that lasts for several weeks

  • Severe abdominal pain or bloating

  • Blood in the stool

  • Unexplained weight loss

 
Conclusion:

Constipation is a common digestive issue that can be managed with lifestyle modifications and dietary changes. By incorporating fiber-rich foods, staying hydrated, engaging in regular physical activity, and establishing a routine, you can promote a healthy digestive system and alleviate constipation. Remember, if constipation persists or is accompanied by concerning symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

Please note that this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice. If you have any concerns about your constipation, please consult with a gastroenterologist for an accurate diagnosis, and then receive a referral to a licensed dietitian nutritionist for a personalized treatment plan.

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