Constipation – The Basics

Constipation is something everyone has struggled with at some point. Having a regular bowel movement is very important for overall health and wellness.

Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. The normal length of time between bowel movement ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements three times a day; others, only one or two times a week. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement is too long. After three days, the stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass.

You are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following for at least 3 months:
• Straining during a bowel movement more than 25% of the time
• Hard stools more than 25% of the time
• Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time
• Two or fewer bowel movements in a week

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation is usually caused by a disorder of bowel function rather than a structural problem. Common causes of constipation include:
• Inadequate water intake
• Inadequate fiber in the diet
• A disruption of regular diet or routine; traveling
• Inadequate activity or exercise or immobility
• Eating large amounts of dairy products
• Stress
• Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, which is sometimes the result of pain from hemorrhoids
• Overuse of laxatives (stimulant laxatives such as senna (Senokot)) which, over time, weaken the bowel muscles
• Hypothyroidism
• Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis
• Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
• Medicines (especially strong pain medicines, such as narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills)
• Depression
• Eating disorders
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Pregnancy
• Colon cancer

In some cases, lack of good nerve and muscle function in the bowel may also be a cause of constipation.

What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?

• Infrequent bowel movements or difficulty having bowel movements (straining)
• Hard or small stools
• Sense of incomplete bowel movement
• Swollen abdomen or abdominal pain
• Pain
• Vomiting
There may also be occasional diarrhea resulting from hard stool

How Can I Prevent Constipation?

There are several things you can do to prevent constipation. Amongst them:

• Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber. Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal (especially bran). Fiber and water help the colon pass stool.
• Drink 1.5 -2.5l of water and other fluids a day (unless fluid restricted for another medical condition). Liquids that contain caffeine, such as coffee and soft drinks, seem to have a dehydrating effect and may need to be avoided until your bowel habits return to normal. Some people may need to avoid milk, as dairy products may be constipating for them.
• Exercise regularly.