About Constipation: Treatment and Prevention
Constipation can be treated medically, but lifestyle changes are often very important. The following practices can both treat and prevent constipation:
- avoid drugs with constipating effects
- increase dietary fibre to 20-30 grams per day by eating whole grains, especially flaxseed, fruits, and vegetables (these add bulk to stools, making them easier to pass)
- use prune juice, stewed prunes, or figs to soften hard stools (but increase the amount slowly to reduce gas)
- eat a diet that's high in bulk and low in processed foods
- drink at least eight glasses of fluid - water is best - each day
- schedule regular times for bowel movements to condition your body (after breakfast, for instance)
- do physical exercise to stimulate the movement of waste through your intestines
Drugs are usually brought in if changing diet and habits don't work. Laxatives should be used sparingly as needed, to a maximum of once or twice a week.
- Bulk-forming laxatives add bulk to the stool, stimulating defecation.
- Some laxatives are irritants that cause the lining of the intestine to contract, helping to push out the stool.
- Others act by coating the feces with oil, preventing water from being absorbed by the intestine.
Enemas and fecal softeners can be used to increase the amount of water in your stool, causing it to become soft. This is useful if you can't or shouldn't be straining, for example if you have anal fissures or rectal prolapse. They too can create dependence, so be careful.