Constipation may not be something everyone talks about, but it happens to most people once in a while. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, not having a bowel movement for three days in a row can cause the stool to become hard and make it difficult to pass. Constipation is usually not serious, but it can lead to problems, such as hemorrhoids and rectal fissures. Although medication is available to treat constipation, in many cases lifestyle changes are enough to treat and prevent the problem.
One important aspect of preventing constipation is understanding the causes. One of the most common causes is poor diet. A diet high in animal fat and low in vegetables and fruit can lead to constipation. Not drinking enough fluids may also cause the stool to become hard.
Certain medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or hormone abnormalities, may lead to constipation. Some medications including narcotic pain killers often slow the digestive track down, which can result in trouble passing stool. Pregnancy is also another common constipation culprit.
Although not all causes of constipation are preventable, understanding the risks can help you take the needed steps to prevent it from developing.
Eating enough foods high in fiber is one of the best ways to prevent constipation from occurring. Certain fiber filled foods work by bulking up the stool and help move food through the intestines quickly.
It is important to understand there are different types of fiber, and they affect digestion differently. Water soluble fiber does not help speed up digestion, while insoluble fiber can help food go through the digestive track faster and prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber also helps make the stool softer and easier to pass. Although both types of fiber have health benefits, insoluble fiber particularly can help prevent constipation. Foods high in insoluble fiber include whole grains, bran cereals, almonds and legumes, such as lentils and white beans.
In addition to insoluble fiber foods, a well-balanced diet is important to prevent constipation. Eat at least two or three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Yogurt may also help prevent constipation by maintaining healthy levels of bacteria in the stomach.
Just as there are foods that can help reduce the chances of constipation, certain foods can contribute to the problem. Foods, which contain high amounts of fat, such as fried foods and certain fatty meats, may slow digestion. Other foods to be limited include those high in white flour and sugar, such as cakes, cookies and white bread. Certain supplements, such as those containing iron can also lead to constipation. If constipation is a problem, talk with your doctor before you stop taking any supplements.
Inactivity can contribute to problems going to the bathroom. A sedentary lifestyle can slow digestion, which causes constipation to develop. Getting regular exercise helps your digestive system including your bowels function more efficiently. Getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as biking, brisk walking and aerobic classes can help reduce your chances of developing constipation.
Drinking enough water may be all it takes to treat and prevent constipation. Dehydration will make the stool hard and difficult to pass. Keep in mind not all liquids are created equal when it comes to preventing dehydration. Certain beverages, such as those containing alcohol, can contribute to dehydration and should be limited.
In order to prevent constipation from developing, water is your best choice when it comes to fluids. Drinking at least eight glasses of water or herbal tea are recommended to reduce constipation, according to the University of Washington.
Poor bowel habits, such as ignoring the urge to go to the bathroom, can eventually lead to constipation. In some instances, it may not be a convenient time, or you don’t want to use a public bathroom so you fight the urge to go. Continually holding in stool may make it difficult to pass later.
According to the University of Washington, setting aside a few minutes at the same time each day to visit the toilet, such as in the morning, may help prevent constipation. Even if you are unable to pass stool at that time, it may relax your digestive system and help stimulate a bowel movement. Eventually, you may train your bowels to go the same time each day. It is important to give yourself enough time without feeling rushed to use the bathroom. Keep in mind it is not necessary to have a bowel movement each day, and you never want to strain and force the issue.
Although constipation is usually nothing to worry about, it can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. By making certain lifestyle changes, such as those listed above, constipation can usually be prevented. Occasionally, constipation can be a symptom of a serious problem, and if it persists longer than a few weeks, see your doctor.