What is Constipation?

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Having trouble defaecating or simply having less frequent bowel actions than is normal is know as Constipation. Your motion or faeces (pronounced fee-sees) becomes hard and dry, and you can only pass small pieces with much trouble. You may also have stomach pains, swelling, pain when straining and a feeling of having not quite emptied the bowel.

Signs & Symptoms

Constipation is defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times per week. The stools are usually hard, dry, small in size, and difficult to eliminate. Some people who are constipated find it painful to have a bowel movement and often experience straining, bloating, and the sensation of a full bowel.


Types 1 & 2 on the Bristol Stool Chart indicate constipation.

What Causes Constipation?

The primary causes for constipation for the majority of people are lack of fiber and lack of water though there are a number of other factors that can contribute to the problem.

Dietary Fiber

The recommended amount of fiber people should be eating each day is recommended by the American Dietetic Association to be between 20 and 35 grams a day but many people on Western diets are only consuming 2 to 15 grams a day. This is obviously going to lead to problems.


The second major cause of the problem is insufficient water. As part of the normal process of breaking down food and absorbing the nutrition you need every day your body clears the waste products created. To do this it needs a steady flow of water to push these wastes through the bowel. Liquids add fluid to the colon and bulk to stools, making bowel movements softer and easier to pass.

Recommended water intake is 8 Large glasses of water a day.

Other Dietary factors

People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause constipation or Celiac-disease often find that variation in food will cause this problem or Diarrhoea. In this general area of food intolerance people who are Lactose Intolerant may find that consuming milk products can lead directly to constipation problems.

Lack of exercise

A lack of physical activity can lead to constipation, although doctors do not know precisely why. For example, the problem often occurs after an accident or during an illness when one must stay in bed and cannot exercise. Lack of physical activity is thought to be one of the reasons the problem is common in older people.

Pregnancy and changes of lifestyle

During pregnancy, women may be constipated because of hormonal changes or because the uterus compresses the intestine. Aging may also affect bowel regularity, because a slower metabolism results in less intestinal activity and muscle tone. In addition, people often become constipated when traveling, because their normal diet and daily routine are disrupted.

Medications Some medications can cause constipation, including

• pain medications (especially narcotics)
• antacids that contain aluminum and calcium
• blood pressure medications (calcium channel blockers)
• antiparkinson drugs
• antispasmodics
• antidepressants
• iron supplements
• diuretics
• anticonvulsants

Irregular toilet habits

Ignoring the need to go to the toilet when it arises can lead to a changed toilet habits and your body no longer giving clear messages when you need to go. This can also lead to constipation problems.

Abuse of Laxatives

The common belief that people must have a daily bowel movement has led to self-medicating with laxative products. Although people may feel relief when they use laxatives, typically they must increase the dose over time because the body grows reliant on laxatives in order to have a bowel movement. As a result, laxatives may become habit-forming and, in themselves, be a contributing factor in a long term constipation problem.

Change of Diet

People who change diet suddenly can find a problem with Constipation.

If you start on any diet or nutrition program then apply the rule to “not cut out, just cut back”.

For example, if you are drinking 10 strong cups of coffee a day and one day you just stop then since coffee is a diuretic you will be highly likely to become constipated and suffer a range of symptoms form the caffeine being suddenly removed from your diet. Try to introduce major changes in diet gradually.

These articles are useful when reviewing a change in your diet: change of diet and symptoms to expect when you change your diet

Medical Problems

In rare cases, constipation may signal more serious medical conditions, such as colorectal cancer, hormonal disturbances or autoimmune diseases. Check the section here on “When to seek Medical Advice” if you have any doubts and if the self help strategies are not effective then be aware that there may be more serious issues underlying this problem.

Risk Factors:

You're more likely to have problems with constipation if you're an older adult, are sedentary or bedridden, eat a diet that's low in fiber or don't drink enough fluids. You're also at risk if you take certain medications, including sedatives or narcotics, or you're receiving chemotherapy.

If you're pregnant, you may have bouts of constipation because of hormonal changes. Later in your pregnancy, pressure on your intestines from your uterus also can cause constipation.


More most people a few simple lifestyle choices like:
• Getting more exercise.
• Eating high fiber foods.
• Drinking more water.
• Avoiding Milk if you have lactose intolerance.
• Taking care with sudden Changes of Diet.

When to seek Medical Advice:

See your doctor if you experience a recent, unexplained onset of constipation or change in bowel habits, or any of the following signs or symptoms, which might indicate a more serious health condition:

• Bowel movements just once or twice a week, despite corrective changes in diet or exercise
• Intense abdominal pain
• Blood in your stool
• Constipation that alternates with diarrhea
• Rectal pain
• Thin, pencil-like stools
• Unexplained weight loss

Chronic constipation may lead to complications such as hemorrhoids or, less commonly, anal fissures.

Hemorrhoids. A hemorrhoid is actually a form of a vericose vein that can occur after straining to have a bowel movement. Symptoms include itching, burning, pain, and bleeding. Bleeding from a hemorrhoid is usually bright red, and more often seen on the toilet paper than in the bowl. Always get rectal bleeding checked out by a doctor, even if you suspect it is due to a hemorrhoid.

Anal fissures. A fissure is a tear or ulcer in the lining of the anal canal which is the last part of the rectum before the anus. Symptoms of a fissure include painful bowel movements, bright red blood in the toilet bowel or on toilet paper, anal lump, or swollen skin tag. Fissures are treated by lessening pressure on the anal canal by making sure stools are soft and ease discomfort or bleeding.

Self Care strategies for Living with Constipation


To help prevent constipation:

• Eat fiber regularly. Choose lots of high-fiber foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain cereals and breads. Experiment to see if particular fruits or vegetables have a laxative effect for you. Adding fiber to your diet gradually may help reduce gas and bloating.

Soluble Sources of Fiber include Barley
Brown rice
Dried beans
French bread
Fresh peas
Methylcellulose (Citrucel)
Oat Bran
Psyllium husks (Metamucil)
Sourdough bread

• Limit problem foods. Foods that are high in fat and sugar and those that tend to be low in fiber content, such as ice cream, cheese and processed foods, may cause or aggravate constipation.

• Drink plenty of liquids. The exact amount of water and other fluids you should drink each day varies and depends on your age, sex, health, activity level and other factors.

• Increase your physical activity. Engage in regular exercise, such as walking, biking or swimming, on most days.

• Heed nature's call. The longer you delay going to the toilet once you feel the urge, the more water that's absorbed from stool and the harder it becomes.

• Try fiber supplements. Over-the-counter products such as Metamucil and Citrucel can help keep stools soft and regular. Check with your doctor about using stool softeners. If you use fiber supplements, be sure to drink plenty of water or other fluids every day. Otherwise, fiber supplements may cause constipation or make the condition worse. Add fiber to your diet slowly to avoid problems with gas.

• Don't rely on stimulant laxatives. These include products such as Correctol and Dulcolax, which cause muscle contractions in the intestines. Habitual use can damage your bowels and make the problem worse. For occasional relief try saline laxatives, such as milk of magnesia. Saline laxatives draw water into the colon to allow stool to pass easier. Keep in mind that long-term use of laxatives can cause dependency. For constipated children, give them plenty of fluids to drink, but avoid giving them laxatives unless your doctor says it's OK.

If there is a long standing problem then it is worth investigating colonic cleansing suggestions.

Often a period of fasting and/or a period on a fruit diet can have a major impact on an existing condition and allow the body to cleanse and clear existing solids so that a more sustainable diet can then be introduced.

Vitamin & Nutrient Associations

For very quick relief from a constipation program then a gentle fiber supplement taken with a lot of water will often push through the problem very quickly.

Often a hot beverage on an empty stomach first thing in the morning will relieve constipation issues. You can use water, as hot as you can comfortably take it or use a green tea based heath drink.

One of the ways to balance nutrition to give the daily requirement of fiber is to use a soy based meal supplement. This give fiber and protein together and also allows healing of existing problems.

Further reading through our articles on health issues will give you a body of information that will help you decide what options you have to deal with the underlying causes of your Constipation problem through giving your body the nutrition products that will assist you body to heal from the inside out. We wish you well in your search for solutions to this problem and your movement towards better health in all areas.

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