For many individuals dealing with constipation, bowel regularity can be synonymous with happiness. Making a few changes in your lifestyle can make all the difference in the world and promote healthy intestines. You simply need to know how to go about it.
What’s the deal with constipation?
In the olden days, people used to believe that it was crucially important to have a bowel movement every day. We now know that there is no truth to that. If we must attempt to determine a so-called normal frequency, we could say that a person should pass a stool between three times a day and once every three days. That being said, some people only do so, for example, once a week, without experiencing any discomfort or particular symptoms. Therefore, don’t worry if the frequency of your bathroom trips is different from someone else’s.
Constipation is defined as an “abnormal” delay in bowel movements or difficulty passing stools. Whether it is occasional or chronic, it is a very common health issue that affects about 25% of the population; women, it should be noted, usually suffer from this condition more often than men. Chronic constipation occurs when the problem lasts over three months, with symptoms that are more or less noticeable.
The following symptoms often accompany constipation:
- stomach cramps;
- abdominal discomfort;
- feeling of heaviness.
Identifying the cause to take action
Constipation can be caused by many things. Here are some examples:
- a low-fibre diet;
- hormonal changes (pregnancy, menopause, etc.);
- fissures, hemorrhoids (or any other problem that makes a person refrain from going to the bathroom);
- not drinking enough water;
- lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle;
- consuming certain constipating foods (bread, rice, cheese, etc.);
- taking certain medication (laxatives over a long period of time, antidepressants, narcotics, antihypertensive drugs, calcium, iron, etc.);
- certains diseases (ex: irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, etc.);
- psychological issues (stress, depression, anxiety, etc.).
If you suffer from constipation, but don’t know why, ask your pharmacist if some of the medications you are taking could be the cause.
How to prevent or remedy the problem
Constipation, although it is bothersome, can be remedied through simple measures. Here are a few recommendations:
- gradually increase your fibre intake, up to about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men (whole-grain cereal, fresh and dry fruit, vegetables and legumes, etc.);
- exercise regularly (at least three times a week for 30 minutes);
- drink lots of water (about six to eight glasses a day);
- try to manage stress;
- have a bowel movement as soon as you feel the urge.
If simply adopting these healthy habits is not enough, you may find fibre supplements or mild laxatives useful.
It is not uncommon to have to resort to a laxative when there is constipation problem, whether it’s occasional or permanent. But choosing the right one amongst the many products available at the pharmacy can be quite confusing. That is why you should always seek the advice of your pharmacist before purchasing any laxative. Although they are usually safe when used according to directions, laxatives can nonetheless have undesired side effects and interfere with the absorption of certain medications. Several types of laxatives are not fast acting and are not necessarily meant for everyone.
If you are considering using a laxative, here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Always take the lowest effective dose. Taking a higher dose may have the opposite effect and lead to diarrhea.
- Give the medication time to take effect. This could mean a few minutes or a few days. Your pharmacist can advise you on the mode and onset of action of the various available medications.
- Try as much as possible to choose mild laxatives instead of stronger ones. Some products, when used on a long-term basis, can make your intestines lazy and may even cause more constipation.
- Consider taking probiotics, which may sometimes help with constipation problems.
- Don’t forget that medication should never replace a healthy lifestyle.
- If your constipation problem is chronic, consider asking your doctor for prescription medication.
When to see a doctor
It is best to see a doctor when:
- there has been no bowel movement for the past 5 days;
- constipation appears suddenly and with no apparent reason;
- constipation is accompanied by blood in the stool, without the presence of hemorrhoids;
- constipation is accompanied by pain, bloating, weight loss, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea (alternating with constipation);
- constipation has been lasting for over three weeks;
- stools are continuously diminishing.
In conclusion, constipation is a common problem that affects many people. In most cases, it is easy to explain and can be remedied through a variety of simple ways. Although treatment or a visit to the doctor’s office can sometimes become necessary, a healthy lifestyle still remains the key to a happy belly!