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Constipation: Symptoms, Risks and Remedies

Constipation is a disorder that affects up to a whopping 20% of US adults, some of them chronically

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Constipation: Symptoms, Risks and Remedies

The struggle (to go) is real. Few conditions are as uncomfortable — or as uncomfortable to talk about — as constipation.

But as we celebrate Constipation Awareness Month, it’s time for some facts — this is a disorder that affects up to a whopping 20% of US adults, some of them chronically.

Constipation occurs when your bowel movements become less frequent and stools become difficult to pass. It happens most often due to changes in diet or routine, or due to inadequate intake of fiber.

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You should call a healthcare provider if you have severe pain, blood in your stool or constipation that lasts longer than three weeks.

Having fewer than three bowel movements a week is, technically, the definition of constipation.

Other key features that usually define constipation include:

  • Your stools are dry and hard.
  • Your bowel movements are painful, and your stools are difficult to pass.
  • You have a feeling that you haven’t fully emptied your bowels.

Certain risk factors make people more likely to become consistently constipated (“chronic constipation”). These factors include:


People older than 65 are often less active, have a slower metabolism and have less muscle contraction strength along their digestive tract than when they were younger.


Being assigned female at birth, especially constipation during pregnancy and after childbirth. Changes in your hormones may make you more prone to constipation. The fetus inside your uterus may squish your intestines, slowing down the passage of stool.

Constipation: Symptoms, Risks and Remedies

Poor-fibre diet

Not eating enough high-fiber foods. Fiber keeps food moving through your digestive system.

Medication and diseases

Taking certain medications. Having certain neurological (diseases of the brain and spinal cord) and digestive diseases.

Ceciel T. Rooker, president of the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, said:

Most people have experienced the inconvenience of having constipation at some point in their life.

For a person who lives with chronic constipation, it can be extremely debilitating and life-altering.

Constipation is a problem with passing stool. People generally poop from three times a week up to once or twice daily, according to the Mayo Clinic — and being “regular” means something different to everyone.

Occasional constipation is fairly common, and it can be caused by any number of factors, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Lack of dietary fiber
  • Certain medications, such as opioid painkillers, antacids, antihistamines or antidepressants
  • Lack of exercise

Constipation can also result from problems with the muscles that form the pelvic floor at the bottom of your torso, or from any kind of blockage in the colon or rectum.

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Health conditions such as pregnancy, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Parkinson’s disease, an overactive thyroid or diabetes can also be linked to chronic constipation.

But regardless of the cause, when you’re as backed up as the Holland Tunnel, the following eight suggestions — all are simple, inexpensive home remedies — might help get things moving again:

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Drink sparkling water

Many people spend their days in a state of mild dehydration, and while any water can help, some studies have found that sparkling water or seltzer is more effective than tap water at relieving constipation.

People with IBS report that carbonated or sparkling drinks can worsen their symptoms, so they might be better off drinking uncarbonated water.

And drinking carbonated sugary sodas might also make constipation worse, in addition to the overall negative health effects from added sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Have a java

Coffee, tea and other caffeinated drinks have a stimulating effect on your nervous system as well as your gut, which can bring relief when constipated.

Caffeinated coffee can stimulate the gut 60% more than drinking water, according to Medical News Today, and 23% more than decaffeinated coffee.

Increase dietary fibre

Fiber increases the bulk and the consistency of bowel movements, making them easier to pass. Fiber also helps stool move more quickly, which prevents them from drying out as they move through your intestines.

A 2016 review found that 77% of people with chronic constipation benefited from fiber supplements. But not all fiber is the same.

Insoluble fibers in vegetables and whole grains add bulk to stools and may help them pass more quickly and easily through the digestive system.

Try senna fruits or leaves

Senna — the fruit or leaf of the senna plant — is an over-the-counter laxative that’s used to treat constipation and to clear the bowel before procedures such as colonoscopy, according to WebMD.

Senna is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the short-term treatment of constipation. The plant contains chemicals called sennosides, which irritate the lining of the gut and cause a laxative effect.

Eat probiotic foods

People with chronic constipation may have an imbalance of bacteria in their gut, so consuming more probiotic foods could help improve this balance and ease constipation.

Foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi contain probiotic bacteria, which can also be found in many supplements.

Eat prunes and plums

Prunes and plums contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that has a proven laxative effect. In fact, some studies have found that prunes may be more effective than fiber supplements such as psyllium.

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The ideal dosage may be around 50 grams, or roughly seven medium-sized prunes, twice per day, according to one study comparing prunes to psyllium.

Constipation: Symptoms, Risks and Remedies

Use over-the-counter laxatives

Over-the-counter laxatives fall into different categories — such as stool softeners, bulking agents or stimulant laxatives — but almost all will work.

Doctors warn, however, that these are only intended for occasional use, and they may be habit-forming if used regularly, according to Cornell Health.

Physical exercise and workouts

Countless studies have linked sedentary lifestyles with an increased risk of constipation, so many health care experts recommend increasing exercise to get the stool moving.

Light exercise, such as walking or swimming, might be more beneficial at relieving constipation than vigorous exercises like running.


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