Almost everyone has experienced constipation at some point in their lives. Some people experience it as a chronic condition, while others may only experience it fleetingly. Either way, if you’ve ever experienced constipation in any degree, then you know that you will try anything under the sun just to get rid of the discomfort.
How do you know when you’re constipated? If you’ve had less than three bowel movements in a week, you haven’t successfully completely removed your stool, you don’t feel satisfied after you’ve released what you can and your stool often looks like pebbles or rocks — then you’re probably constipated.
It’s estimated that about 20% of people across the world experience chronic constipation and cases of constipation generally tend to increase with age and are known to be more common in women. Constipation is hardly ever life-threatening, but it can have a heavy impact on your quality of life.
While an alteration in one’s diet can be enough to ease the symptoms of constipation, there are certain things that you could be doing that exacerbate them. When you’re constipated, the last thing you want is to be even more constipated. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the behaviours and actions that you should avoid if you don’t want your symptoms to get worse.
1. Don’t eat processed food
Processed foods are the one thing you want to stay as far away from when you’re experiencing constipation. They often have very little to no fibre, which makes them sit a lot longer in your intestines than food should. This makes for hard, dry stools and can increase your levels of discomfort and even induce pain.
2. Don’t add fibre too quickly
The first remedy that comes to mind when experiencing constipation is to add a lot more fibre into your diet — and this is not entirely wrong, but moderation is important. Non-profit academic medical centre Cleveland Clinic writes that adding too much fibre to your diet too quickly can leave you feeling more painfully bloated and blocked than before. The recommendation is that you should aim to have between 20 and 35 grams of fibre a day. Fruit, veggies and whole grains are great fibre-rich foods and they improve gut function.
3. Don’t avoid water
Hydration is important for easing constipation and keeping your stool easy to pass and soft, so make sure that you’re drinking a lot of water a day. John Hopkins Medicine warns against drinking caffeine-rich beverages and over-indulging in alcohol as these can be dehydrating, which can make your existing symptoms worse.
4. Don’t skip exercise
Physical inactivity is linked with constipation, so daily exercise is important for improving the symptoms. According to Harvard Health, people who exercise regularly generally don’t develop constipation because the colon responds to activity and “good muscle tone, in general, is important for regular bowel movements”.
5. Don’t rely solely on laxatives
A study by researchers from the School of Pharmacy at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University cautions against relying heavily on laxatives as a solution to constipation.
“Patients who require pharmacological treatment should be wanted against the excessive use of laxatives, which may cause excessive water loss, electrolyte imbalances and impaired colon motility — especially with stimulant laxatives,” the research paper says.
It goes on to say that under no circumstance should caster oil be used because of its harshness, which can cause severe stomach pains.
6. Don’t “keep it in”
When you feel like you need to go — make sure to go. “Pay attention to the signals of the need to pass a stool, and don’t ignore the ‘call to stool’,” the research paper says. Usually, your bowels are most active first thing in the morning, which is also said to be the best time to go, and 30 minutes after a meal. Ignoring or delaying a bowel movement could make everything that’s already bad, worse.
When to see a doctor…
While constipation isn’t often life-threatening, in some instances, it could be the symptom of a bigger underlying health issues. The research paper outlines the conditions that suggest that you need to visit your doctor:
- Experiencing constipation symptoms for more than three weeks.
- Experiencing severe symptoms of constipation.
- Constipation associated with any other concerns, such as the presence of blood on the toilet paper, weight loss, fever and weakness.
- New symptoms or sudden change in bowel habits, lasting for two weeks or longer.
- Constipation associated with colic-like abdominal pain, abdominal distension and vomiting.
- Constipation caused by prescribed medicines.
- Failure of over-the-counter treatment to correct the constipation.
- Regular reliance on stimulant laxatives to achieve a bowel movement.