Dealing with constipation - Hard times pass
Constipation is defined as a condition whereby it is difficult to empty the bowels, in most cases being associated with hardened, lumpy or dry faeces (poo) that is forcing you to strain when you attempt to pass.
Another telltale sign of constipation is how often you attend the toilet to pass faeces. It is important to note however that ascribing a number of days to constipation would be difficult and even unwise, considering the fact that we are all unique in how often we have bowel movements. Some of us open our bowels up to three times a day, and others just a few times a week. This is why it is important to consider your “normal” bowel movement and whether the stretches of time between bowel movements have increased.
Moreover, generally speaking, if you have not passed a stool at least three times during the last 7 days and your faeces can be described as hardened, lumpy or dry, and you are having to strain considerably when attempting to open your bowels.
All about constipation - A comprehensive infographic
For a more in depth look into constipation please continue reading.
Other symptoms of constipation
In addition to the changes in the consistency of the stool during a bout of constipation, there are also other symptoms that may co-exist. For instance, other constipation symptoms may include; a feeling of bloating and nausea (sick), which can sometimes be paired with a painful stomach ache, especially when straining in an attempt to pass a stool.
Being that babies can’t express to us whether they are suffering from constipation, it is important that we look out for some less obvious signs that may point to the fact that they are potentially suffering from constipation.
Some examples of these signs of constipation in babies may include any of the following symptoms in addition to the previously mentioned hard, lumpy stools and not being able to pass at least three times in the last week:
- A perceived lack of energy as compared to their normal selves.
- A firm and hard stomach to the touch.
- Being grumpy and unhappy.
- A poor appetite and eating less often than usual.
- If they soil their clothes, which may seem counterintuitive and unusual, but diarrhoea may leak around hard constipated faeces, known as “overflow soiling”.
Causes of constipation (4 top tips to manage constipation)
It is important that you are familiar with the most common factors that can contribute to and ultimately cause constipation. This allows us to better appreciate the advice on dealing with and hopefully relieving constipation.
Tip number 1 - Drink enough water
Not drinking enough water and other fluids throughout the day can leave you dehydrated, which is one of the most common causes of constipation. This dehydration and lack of extra fluid don’t allow for stools to achieve softness, needed for easy passage of stools.
But how much water should be drunk on a daily basis?
The reality is that there isn’t a simple answer and opinions on how much water we should consume on a daily basis differs.
Some health experts recommend that we consumer 2 litres of water per day, which equates to (eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day). Although this may be true other health experts as part of the NHS advocate that we consume 1.2 litres a day, which equates to (6-8 glasses of water a day), it should be noted that this daily total also includes fluid from food sources, such as fruit. To keep things simple here in the UK considering the beautiful grey, rainy weather it is recommended that for an average healthy person they consume 6-8 glasses of water per day.
Contrary to popular belief caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea can be included in your total daily fluids, despite their diuretic and potentially dehydrating effects.
Moreover, you can adjust the amount of water that you consume on a daily basis based on personal factors such as the amount of exercise you are doing and whether you are suffering from a medical condition or acute illness e.g. a fever. A good marker for whether you are consuming enough water and are properly hydrated, asides from how you feel in yourself is how clear your urine is. If your urine is a shade of yellow, try introducing another glass of water into your daily total until your urine runs clear.
If you are still confused about how much water you need to consume please consult with a healthcare professional, so they can help you tailor your fluid consumption.
Tip number 2 - Eat enough fibre
The bottom line is, incorporating fiber into your daily diet is very important and to be honest it isn’t as hard as it is made out to be.
Fibre is an indigestible carbohydrate that is found in many foods, amongst them a few examples include fruit and vegetables to grains and legumes. This dietary fibre increases the weight and size of your stools and in the process softens them. These bulky stools more easily pass through the digestive tract and in turn decrease the chances of developing constipation.
As per government guidelines, adults should increase the amount of fibre that they consume on a daily basis to 30g a day to be considered as part of a healthy diet. Fibre requirement in grams does however vary based on age:
2 to 5 year-old: 15g of fiber per day
5 to 11 year-old: 20 grams of fiber per day
11 to 16 years-old: 25 grams of fiber per day
17 years and over: 30g of fiber per day
You can easily calculate the amount of fibre in food by simple checking the nutrition label or by simply searching the internet e.g. How much fibre in a small apple?
Asides from reducing the chances of constipation and allowing continuity and consistency in you bowel movements fibre also has many other amazing health benefits, some examples include:
Helps you feel fuller for longer.
Helps to control blood sugar levels.
Helps in lowering cholesterol levels.
Amongst many other benefits, in short “eat fiber”!
Tip number 3 - Make improvements to your toilet routine
If you feel as though you need to go to the toilet make sure to give yourself plenty of time and do not delay any urge to defecate.
Adjust your foot position whilst sitting on the toilet
So you’re telling me there is a proper way to sit on the toilet? Yes, there is a preferred technique and posture when you are trying to pass your stool.
Four easy tips to improve your posture and in turn your bowel movements:
Sit with your knees higher than your hips by using a footstool (Would recommend the squatty potty).
This foot position of having your knees above your hips beyond 90 degrees helps to straighten out the rectum and as a result, allows for the stool to pass through much more easily.
Lean forward and place your elbows on your knees.
Relax and avoid straining, whilst bulging your stomach out.
Straighten your spine and sit upright.
Tip number 4 - Make sure to get enough exercise
Exercise for constipation can be very beneficial as it helps speed things up so to speak. Exercise helps constipation by decreasing the time that it takes for food to move through the large intestine, this reduces the amount of time that water from the stool is absorbed by the body, thus reducing the chances of the stool becoming hard, dry and difficult to pass.
The amount of physical exercise that is recommended per day varies from person to person based on age:
Adults aged 19 to 64 years – 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week
Children and young people aged 5 to 18 years – 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week
Moderate-intensity exercise (150 minutes a week, spread over 2 or more days):
Examples of moderate-intensity exercise:
Water aerobics – a type of resistance training done vertically in waist-high water, without swimming. This type of exercise is also really good on your joints.
Vigorous exercise for adults (75 minutes a week, spread over 2 or more days):
Examples of vigorous intensity exercise:
You can increase the intensity and effort of the moderate-intensity exercise examples above.
Treating constipation with medication - Purchase medicine to help you pass your stool
If you’ve implemented some of the lifestyle tips and measures highlighted earlier and they haven’t helped in reducing your symptoms of constipation then you can potentially purchase medicine from a pharmacy to speed up and help the process.
These medicines fall into a class of medicines known as laxatives, which come in many types.
For brief description of the four main types of laxatives and how they work (see below):
Bulk-forming laxatives (e.g. fybogel) – works by increasing the “bulk” of the stool, which ultimately stimulates your bowel movements.
Stimulant laxatives (e.g. Dulcolax) – works by stimulating your gut muscles to move your faeces along your back passage.
Stool-softener laxatives (e.g. Docusate sodium) – works by allowing water to penetrate the stool, making it easier to pass.
Osmotic (e.g. Lactulose) – works by drawing water from the rest of the body into the bowel, which softens the faeces, making it easier to pass.
It is important that you contact a pharmacist or your doctor so that they can establish your case of constipation and in turn, you can best tailor your choice of laxative to your individual case of constipation.
When to the see the doctor if you have constipation
Most of the time constipation is not serious and can improve with time and the adequate lifestyle measures, but in some instances, you may need to contact your doctor as constipation may be a sign of something more sinister. Example include:
- If constipation lingers around for 3 weeks or longer.
- If you have blood in your stool and it appears dark and tarry – this can indicate internal bleeding of the upper portion of the digestive system.
- Unexplained and unintentional weight loss – could indicate cancer or a tumour.
- Feeling fatigued and more tired than usual – could indicate bleeding and anaemia.
If you believe that medication is the contributing factor to your constipation contact your doctor for the necessary changes to be made. This may be when you have recently started a new medication.
Some common example of medication that cause constipation
- Opioid pain killers e.g. morphine, codeine
- Antidiarrhoeal medication e.g. loperamide
- Antacids e.g. calcium and aluminium containing antacids
- Some antidepressants e.g. amytripyline
- Antihistamines e.g. diphenhydramine
- Calcium supplements
- Painkillers e.g. ibuprofen and aspirin
Amongst many others. Make sure to contact your local pharmacist for advice on whether your medication could potentially be causing your constipation.
Get rid of the rock and roll. Although sometimes constipation can be troublesome to deal with, just know hard times pass, especially if you implement the tips and tricks found throughout this article. Feel free to leave us a comment and subscribe for updates and more amazing content and above all Behealthible