You know the feeling. That uncomfortable, backed up sensation that leaves you feeling bloated? If it’s been a while since you’ve had a bowel movement, you might be constipated. This situation is not only uncomfortable, but it can cause lasting trouble if left untreated.
Here are five things to know about constipation and how to keep your bowels working right:
What is constipation?
If you don’t poop every day, that does not necessarily mean you are constipated. It is normal for people to have a bowel movement every few days or multiple times each day. You are constipated when you have bowel movements less frequently than before and your stool becomes hard and dry. You could also feel bloated and have stomach cramps when you are constipated. Having constipation from time to time is common, and it can usually be taken care of at home.
What causes constipation?
Constipation can have several causes, from lifestyle and diet to health issues and medication. Dehydration and a diet that consists of not enough fiber and too much processed foods and dairy can cause constipation. Certain medications and using laxatives too often can back you up, so talk to your doctor if your prescriptions are keeping you from having bowel movements.
What are the complications?
If constipation continues, over time it can lead to serious complications. Chronic constipation commonly causes hemorrhoids or anal fissures, which are small tears in the anus. It can also cause hard stool to become stuck in the intestines. Severe constipation could lead to rectal prolapse, which is when the intestine protrudes from the anus after straining to have a bowel movement.
Who is at risk?
People with an inactive lifestyle and those who do not eat enough fruits and vegetables or drink enough water are at risk for constipation. It is more common in older adults but can also affect young children. In children, constipation often occurs during potty training or when beginning school when they may try to avoid using the restroom. A change in schedule or diet may also lead to constipation in kids.
How is it treated?
Treatment for constipation generally involves eating a healthy diet. Eating prunes, drinking more water and exercising can help prevent and improve constipation symptoms. In some situations, a doctor may recommend stool softeners, temporarily using laxatives or a suppository.
“Fiber helps aid in digestion and keeps stool soft, but most people do not get enough of it in their diet,” says Matthew Scott, executive director at Mission Hills Post Acute Care. “Be sure to eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans to avoid constipation.”
Constipation is common and usually isn’t a long-term problem. With the right diet and lifestyle adjustments, you can keep constipation out of your life. If you find constipation is a continual problem, be sure to talk to your doctor about what you can do.