December 11, 2020
When it comes to using the restroom, everyone has, well…a schedule. You know if you’re the type of person who uses the bathroom first-thing in the morning, after a cup of coffee, or later in the day. You also know what is “normal” when it comes to how many times a week you have to go.
Occasionally, those habits change. If you have three or fewer bowel movements in a week, you are likely constipated. The good news? Constipation is almost always short-lived and generally is not a cause for serious concern. Nonetheless, suffering from constipation can be a pain in the rear: stool can be painful to pass, and hard or dry.
Want to avoid the discomfort of constipation? Here are five of the most common causes for this disruption of your regular routine:
If you’re suffering from constipation, this is the most likely culprit. In fact, most Americans don’t eat enough dietary fiber already! Fiber is found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables—all of which should already be in your diet. The root cause of constipation is stool passing too slowly through your intestine, and the bulk in fiber keeps it moving. If you’re feeling constipated, switch up your diet to include more fruits and vegetables—just be careful, adding too much too quickly can leave you bloated and gassy.
Like everything else in your body, a lot of your stool is water. Dehydration makes stools harder, and therefore harder to pass. If you notice your stool is hard even before you become constipated, water—or other clear liquids such as soups or fruit juices—are a great place to start to avoid dehydration.
Almost every malady is improved with exercise, and constipation is no exception. Regular exercise decreases the amount of time it takes for stool to pass through your large intestine, which makes it easier to go more regularly and easily. After all, the muscle tone from exercising helps the muscles that your body uses to go the bathroom, too. Exercise also relieves stress, which can also contribute to constipation.
Sometimes when you have to go, the moment is inopportune and you must hold it. But, don’t make a habit of it! Not sticking with a regular schedule can lead to constipation, either by making it harder for your muscles to relax when it’s time to go, or by allowing stool to accumulate (fecal impaction) to the point where it is stuck in your intestines.
Constipation is a side effect of some medicines. Medicines that treat iron deficiencies and antidepressants can both cause constipation; if you’re experiencing this side effect, check with your doctor before you stop taking your medicine. Opioids can also cause constipation as they slow the movement of stool through your intestine.
If you are dealing with constipation and addressing the causes above doesn’t help, you can try an over-the-counter laxative (just be sure to follow the dosage instructions carefully). If that doesn’t work, or you start to experience other symptoms such as pain in your abdomen, blood in your stool, or fever, see a doctor for an examination.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.