What is constipation?
Constipation is a problem defined when you’re relieving your bowels on average three times (or less) a week, as well as experiencing some of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with this.
However, the issue around frequency of bowel movements relies on also knowing what is ‘normal’ for you. If you usually, comfortably, have only 2-3 bowel movements a week, this isn’t always a problem. If this starts to become even less, then you may be experiencing constipation. A better indication is if you’re experiencing some of the other symptoms.
Other constipation symptoms to look out for include:
- Need to go for a poo, but finding it hard to do so as if there’s a blockage
- Having a hard or lumpy poo
- Stomach cramps or ache
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling as though you haven’t emptied your bowels fully
These symptoms can have an affect on your physical and mental health, making it hard to go about or enjoy day-to-day life.
Because there are many possible causes of constipation, there’s thankfully a lot of easy changes you can make to relieve your symptoms. Find out some natural remedies, what medical advice your doctor may suggest and how you can prevent constipation from becoming a problem:
Diet changes to relieve constipation
A diet that is low in fibre and consists of a lot of processed foods, sugar and alcohol can cause constipation. Although, even if you lead a fairly healthy lifestyle, there are some dietary changes you can make to relieve your symptoms.
Eat foods that are high in fibre
Fibre is a nutrient that we consume through eating plants as part of our diet.
Fibre doesn’t get digested as it passes through the body, instead passing back out during trips to the toilet. This adds bulk to bowel movements, and provides stool softening effects. This will make your bowel movements softer and easier to pass, relieving some of your discomfort.
High-fibre foods include: fruit and vegetables, wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice and wholegrain breakfast cereals. Incorporate these into your diet and you should feel the effects within a couple of weeks.
Sticking to this diet will help to prevent constipation long-term.
Drink water regularly
Drinking at least 2 litres of fluid each day may help to relieve constipation. You should avoid alcohol and fizzy drinks that may dehydrate or bloat you.
If you struggle to get enough water each day - or you think you might be dehydrated - find out more about how you can get your daily intake easily, and the other risks associated with dehydration.
Drink a glass of prune juice
It might not be the most appetising option for some, but prunes act as natural laxatives.
Being high in both fibre and sorbitol - a sugar that helps to soften stools by attracting water to the digestive system - prunes are one of the best foods to encourage an easier trip to the toilet.
Other foods high in sorbitol include apples, apricots and grapes.
It’s important to note that whilst these foods usually help relieve the symptoms of constipation, certain people should avoid them. If your constipation is caused by a problem like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, as these are high-FODMAP foods.
Lifestyle changes that relieve constipation
As well as the important changes to your diet, some additional lifestyle changes could act as a home remedy for constipation relief.
Regular exercise - even a daily walk - has been found to aid the relief of constipation.
Stick to a regular toilet routine
Avoid any unnecessary added stress to times when you feel the need to go to the toilet. Sticking to a regular time will help your body settle into a routine, and giving yourself enough time - somewhere you feel comfortable - will aid the process. Do not put off going to the toilet if you feel the need to poo.
Medical relief for constipation
If your constipation doesn’t improve after making these changes, you might suffer from more serious constipation. Complications can arise from long-term constipation, like faecal impaction (where poo builds up in our rectum).
If you see a doctor about constipation, they may suggest one of the following types of laxatives. They might prescribe you particular laxatives if faecal impaction is suspected.
- Stimulant laxative - This type of medication is designed to increase your bowel movements by stimulating the nerves in your digestive system.
- Osmotic laxative - This medication will help to soften your stools as it draws water into your gut.
There are also bulking agents (designed to add water to your stools) and stool softeners, to help ease the process of going to the toilet.
A doctor will help you decide which type is the best for you.
Other treatments for faecal impaction include:
- Enemas (the passing of fluid through your bowels)
- Removal of the poo from your bowel
- Medicine that is placed directly into the bowel (a suppository)