Constipation is easy to diagnose and treat. What works best?
When should I see my doctor?
Contact your doctor when you have serious or persistent constipation that lasts for several days or weeks and experience no improvement using remedies. Any worsening or severe abdominal pain is cause for concern. Sudden and severe bloating with the inability to pass gas could be intestinal blockage and requires immediate attention. Unexplained weight loss, very painful bowel movements and blood streaks on your bathroom tissue may indicate a more serious condition. Your doctor will examine your medical history and lifestyle for a proper diagnosis.
Talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking which can cause constipation. These include some antidepressants, iron supplements, diuretics, or antacids high in calcium. Other medications such as painkillers containing narcotics like codeine, and cough and cold remedies with dextromethorphan can affect your bowel movements. Your doctor may be able to suggest alternative medications to prevent constipation or treatments to lessen its effects.
Good news! It’s just simple constipation; what can I do?
Fortunately, constipation can be easily cared for at home. Most people do not get the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber daily but this is easily taken care of by adding fiber rich foods to your diet such as whole grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, and beans. You may need to limit foods such as meat, cheese, milk and highly refined processed foods. Drinking eight to ten glasses of water a day and get physically active. Even just a daily twenty minute walk helps keep your system functioning properly.
When the urge strikes, go! Holding bowel movements and ignoring the need to eliminate causes stool to harden and interferes with the colon muscles’ contractions. Fiber supplements should only be used after talking to your doctor as they can absorb water from stool, and cause bloating and gas. Avoid laxatives, enemas and stool softeners without first consulting your doctor. These should be used rarely as prolonged use leads to increased dependency. If you have been taking laxatives, stop. It will take a while but you can retrain your bowels. Set aside a time each day to have a bowel movement and stick to this time as much as possible. Note that prolonged sitting on the toilet can put additional strain on the colon so limit your time spent there. With patience, your body will gradually adapt to an elimination routine that is normal for you.
Constipation is the body’s way of saying that we need to bring some healthy balance to our busy lives. You can take control and prevent constipation from disrupting your busy lifestyle. Understanding the causes and treatments of constipation will help you determine what is ‘regular’ for you.
Visit the following websites for further information about constipation:
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You