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Digestive Health | Family Health
Woman in pain

Constipation: 6 Ways to Unblock Yourself

Relief for common or complicated cases

You’re bloated and blocked. You strain on the toilet with no results — or with results that are painful. You’re constipated.

Constipation is common. Sometimes it stems from stress. Other times it comes from bad diet or lifestyle choices. Still other times, it’s brought on by a medical condition that requires a doctor’s attention.

You can find relief, though, whether your constipation is a typical case or something more serious. The difference comes in how you find relief.

1. Solutions are simple for most people

Most of the time constipation happens because you’re not eating the right foods, you’re not drinking enough water and you’re not exercising enough. So the fixes are straightforward: Move more, drink more water and add fiber to your diet to add bulk to your stool. Some of my patients have had success taking probiotics, too, to change the composition of the bacteria in the gut.

“Here’s the bottom line: Try simple fixes first, but if they fail, don’t suffer needlessly.”

Brooke Gurland, MD

Department of Colorectal Surgery

2. Make time to move your bowels

This may sound simple, but people don’t always make bathroom time a priority. Try waking up earlier to eat breakfast and then move your bowels. Food can stimulate the need to go, and your home bathroom may be more relaxing. But don’t avoid public bathrooms when you feel the urge, either. Delaying a bowel movement can make constipation worse.

3. Look to your plate

Have you made a major change in your diet? Sometimes drastic changes to what you eat can cause constipation. For example, if you suddenly cut all fat from your diet, it’s easy to get blocked up. This can occur in weightlifters who eat all protein, no fat. It can happen in people with eating disorders, too. You don’t want to overdo fat, but you need a little to move things through your bowel.

4. When to see a doctor

Sometimes simple changes are not enough. If your constipation is more than just a short-term bother, if it’s not responding to treatments and if it lasts for weeks, get yourself checked out to exclude more serious medical causes. Chronic constipation can be a sign of conditions such as hyperthyroidism, hypercalcemia, celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It’s especially important to see a professional if you have other symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, cramping or spasms.

5. Fiber is not always the answer

Fiber works for most people, but not all. If fiber makes you more bloated and blocked than before, it could mean many different things. For example, in “slow transit constipation,” a condition where the bowel does not move things quickly through, fiber just sits there in your gut and can make you feel worse. Long story short: If fiber makes you worse, don’t just add more. Seek help.

6. If your constipation is serious, you have options

People with slow motility or IBS don’t have a cure for constipation, but you can treat it. There’s a wide range of laxatives available, plus pro-motility drugs that a doctor can prescribe. Sometimes at-home remedies can bring relief, too, including increasing dietary vegetable or mineral oil to lubricate the bowels. For people with celiac disease or wheat intolerance, cutting out gluten can make a world of difference.  

Here’s the bottom line: Try simple fixes first, but if they fail, don’t suffer needlessly. See a doctor — and find out what treatments can get your bowels moving again.

Tags: celiac disease, constipation, digestive health, fiber, hypercalcemia, hyperthyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome, stress
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Brooke Gurland, MD, is a surgeon with the Department of Colorectal Surgery at Cleveland Clinic.

Cleveland Clinic now offers same-day appointments. Get the care you need, right away at 888.223.CARE.

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  • Mar

    usually hyperthyroidism causes diarrea and hypothyroidism constipation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jays.kidney Jay Robare

    Water sounds great but I am on dialysis and limited to 1 liter a day, what foods can I eat that don’t have a lot of water? I like fruit but the liquid…

    • Health Hub Team

      Thank you for your question. We highly recommend speaking with your doctor or doctors to come up with a dietary plan. If you have issues with constipation, be sure to bring that up. Best of luck to you.

      • Chris

        What are other symptoms of hypothyrodism,the one that causes constipation

    • CMG

      You should discuss this with your nephrologist.. maybe they can adjust the dialysis. Try oatmeal, celery and figs are always a good choice. Ask about using Miralax…or its generic equivalent.

  • Angela Mcmillan

    if your poop is hard then you might want to try some vitamin C.if your poop is soft but hard to come out still try some magnesium.be sure to make sure those dont enter act with other drugs.i did hem like my magnesium before bed one night,next morning had relief.that next night i took the vitamin C to keep my poop soft like it is suppose to be.not ruins now but just mildly soft for passing.i did that for about 3 days,then i was fine.i dont use much fiber.be sure to drink a lot of water cause if the rest of your body is low it will steal it from your intestines and thats what contributes to constipation.i go every morning with in a hour of waking up.hope this helps some of you.

    • pat102

      Vit C 500mg several times a day is a help.

  • kathy cash

    I have a real problem I never go to the bathroom without taking a laxative and then after I go to the bathroom I’m real sick for a day or two and I don’t no what to do please help me!!!!!!!

    • CMG

      Miralax, or it’s generic equivalent, is the recommended bulk laxative. Take daily at the same time. It is very safe and effective. It will not “stimulate” your bowel. Take with a full glass of water. If you are on a diet, make sure you still have fiber and enough fat.

      • Bonnie Neal

        gastrologist give this to their patients to take the night before surgery. Cleans you out well.

    • anglnsun

      Are you making sure there is some fat in your diet? Going fat free is a big problem. Kefer (1 cup a day) is liquid yoghourt helps. I have had so many problems myself. Really warm glass of water first thing in the morning is very helpful. Pears also help me. If you depend on a laxative then you will always need one. Try to make the same time every day to relax. Double up on green veggies. Some cereals, I like Cheerios, help me. Lots of water!!!! After time in rehab after surgery, I had major problems. Wasn’t getting my morning coffee (Hot liquid) to move things. Be careful with fiber, it can bulk it up more. If you like greens, kale, spinach and beans help a lot. Hope some of this helps. I learned a lot from my daughter, a nurse.

  • Fran

    Magnesium! It’s a miracle for me!

    • Ann

      Magnesium at night. Very warm water with the juice of half a lemon in the morning. Prunes. Miralax when things are very bad.

    • pat102

      Liquid aloe.

  • Jerry

    Why No Squatty Potty?

  • sandy

    Dr Garland had a routine colonoscopy a month ago. 60 yr healthy female. Could be a coincidence but never felt right since. Woke up after anesthetic needing an inhaler. Everyday its something differently. I have 2cm hiatal hernia and overweight. For a few days I’d have abdominal pain, then upper breastbone chest pain like an elephant sitting on my chest, no appetite, some joint pain, then lately back pain/spasms between shoulder blades, sometimes lightheaded but not vomitkng. Could gerd be causing all this? IBS? Gallblader? Heart good. Bowel move ments pretty good they vary sometimes loose. I even thought my vagus nerve could be damaged gastroparesis? I don’t do well with anesthesia.

    • Barbara Oxenreider

      I have the back pain too I do have a heart problem, and had my Gallblader removed, hoping it would help, it did not, the Doc say it is IBS not so sure,

      • endofdays

        Research a probiotic Saccharomyces Boulardii. It’s done some amazing repairs on my leaky gut syndrome.

    • Janet

      Gallbladder. I had all the same symptoms and it was my gallbladder.

    • Bonnie Neal

      Now you know/ You can’t go to sleep with that type of anatesia(shot… need to always mention to your doc/s about it.. I had terrible chest pains. One of my doctors says I have blocked arteries in my heart. I have been told I have IBS, Gerd, you name it..ha.. I finaly went to Cleveland clinic . had the gastro there. do test., ( after already being in hospital three times before. and many doc appointments.. She found That I had sliding hiatel hernia. and we scheduled for surgeries.. I was tired of runny bowels a constant cough. which damaged my voice box. and chest pains on top of chest pains. I had the surgery in Feb 2014 it is Nov. 2014. My cough subsided My chest pains have gotten much better. although I still have some discomfort. And my bowels are working better .. I had my gall bladder out first. In June 2013. Wasn’t a bad surgery at all. abd to my surprise the surgey for the stomch. wasn’t bad either. its just that you have to eat blended foods for about 5 weeks. Like baby food, apple sauce, boost. I m so glad I had these things done.. I still get some acid on my vocal cords. I worry about cancer there… Get your hiatal done. You may feel a lot better. and Be sure to tell your surgeon about the experience with your gasrologist. good luck.. as far as your throat it gets better soon

  • Chris

    Ever since i was a kid i always had problems with constipation& it was more of a location problem,i could never go normal regular unless i was home& alone,& whenever going away or on vacation it was always a problem& still is(im 48yrs old) its almost as if my colon is bashful,& im so routine that it always has to be same time of day,after i wake up& have my 1st cup of coffee,ive never gone in a public bathrm that i can remember& ive envied people whom can& or go twice a day! Talk about being literally anal retentive,thats me

  • Craig Schwarzbek

    Prune juice for consipation and yogurt for diarrhea. Along with eating whole grains, and on occasion adding fiber should keep you going. It’s what sone call detoxing.

  • George

    hypo- not hyperthyroidism is related to constipation

  • PhilipJamesJarosz

    Just want to say thanks for all the current news on keeping healthy. We are seeing ads on Buffalo NY TV Stations about the Cleveland Clinic and that’s a good sign, because now we have another health option nearby. Thank you, I’ve shared so much of your postings with my friends on facebook.

  • Nevergoback

    I never had problems until a very sadistic ge did a colonoscopy on me and the pain medicine NEVER kicked in. He should have stopped but just kept jabbing onward and upward. I have never been in so much pain in my life. Two nurses held me down while he said give her more meds. My surgeon cousin said they probably missed the vein. I had a baby without so much as an aspirin and was less painful. Ever since he rearranaged my bowel I have been constipated. And you folks wonder why you get sued. Will never have another one………………….he did not even apologize for what felt like the worst kind abuse this human has ever endured. What is wrong with the ge community?? I am not overweight and 68 years old. Post-stroke and take 2 300mg Neurontin a day for leg neuropathy. Try to drink lots of water and get plenty of fiber. The Neurontin could be the culprit but should not be an issue with all the other things I do to counteract evil effects of same.

    any thoughts?

    • SCB

      I have found it hard to communicate to specialists that I have a very high pain threshold, so if I say it hurts, it’s like a 10 on a scale of 10. They just won’t believe you and assume that it doesn’t hurt that bad, and you’re just overreacting to “discomfort.” It sounds like you’re in the same boat. (Regarding childbirth, I still remember the nurse who delivered my first without calling the doctor explaining to me that I was “too polite to be in transition.”)

      • Janet Diehl

        Research has shown that woman and children are often under medicated for pain. I’ve gotten so I speak up about my pain tolerance or intolerance before a procedure begins.

    • Bonnie Neal

      I wrote to you. but under a sandy. please look up to Sandy. About a dr garland and colonoscopy..

  • unknown

    how can you add fiber to your diet when you have a fiberistic breast disease? sorry about my spelling.

    • Carol Clinch

      Not sure they are connected. Fiber that goes through the mouth is not a cause for the fibrocystic breast disease. Would speak to my health care practitioner about it.

  • debra dugdale

    I have neuropathy. .use a fentanyl pain patch daily. .and oxycodones for break thru pain. Talk about constipation! I take laxatives daily – 3- pills a day. No relief. . Help..please..

  • Lisa Muzic

    Eliminate grains from your diet, take a probiotic like Culturelle and see a functional medicine practitioner. It worked for me.

  • Grandmere3

    Too bad there aren’t 6 ways to unblock the cerebrum like there are 6 ways to unblock the colon!

  • anglnsun

    A glass of warm water first thing in the morning works. Apple cider vinegar (tablespoon) in warm water with touch of honey works well. Kefer (liquid yougart) also is good in helping. A pear a day is another helper.

  • Mj

    Hil I have IBS-C. I was taking 2-4 stool softeners daily for years. In the past six months I have started drinking a fruit and vegetable smoothie for breakfast with a base of almond or coconut milk plus yogurt or kefir. Suddenly my bowels are happy and so is my GERD! I also take probiotics, vitamin D, C , omega 3, etc (but I was doing that b4 too).

    • Glenda Brown Neves

      Thanks for the info Mj, I have the same problem and have trying to find some kind of relief. I will try your suggestion and see if that helps.

    • chrissy

      Mj , may I ask what types of fruit and veggies u normally use? I too suffer badly! My gastro dr tells me I have no muscles anymore in colon to be able to get the stool out. He put me a a prescription of linzess , it had just started to help me when insurance decided they wouldn’t cover the med any longer . I take two hundred mg. Colace daily for passed month, increased my fiber intake and still hardly am able to go. I’ve tried two laxatives daily still not working well either except gives me some bad cramping. But anyway if u could share what u normally put in smoothies id really appreciate it. Thanks

      • Carol

        My insurance wouldn’t cover but the nurse kept calling and got a different representative the last time and she said yes. Then, I went to Linzess’s website and got a coupon…..total cost was $30.

  • Kayla

    What if you have a bowel movement but still feel bloated constipated and dizzy? Serious?

  • Tessy

    Magnesium is the only thing that ever consistently helped me after having trouble most of my life. Just high dose of magnesium once a day (500mg). Haven’t had any trouble since.

  • Diane

    I have issues with hemroids by the time I get an appopintment for the doctor they are gone I really don’t want to go to the ER but it is getting to the point I will have to.

  • Mags

    I have just started taking co-codomol for osteoarthritis and it has now made me constipated. I haven’t passed any stools since Thursday (it’s now Sunday & I usually go 1-2 times a day) and it has now become very painful. I did go yesterday to the chemist & bought senokot but so far nothing. Help!

  • Carrie

    I had lap band surgery in March. I’ve been constipated most of the time. 2 weeks ago I had to go to Er for kidney infection, low potassium and dehydration. Feel better now, but constipation has been going on for 2 weeks. Now I can’t eat or drink anything. It comes right back up. So I can’t drink miralax or take any medicine. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • FLORENCE GAIDA

    My ge sent me back to my pcp. Pcp sent me back to ge. Very sad and disappointed. IBS-D.

  • William

    There are many reasons for constipation, and no one remedy is the solution for all, however, abdominal massage, by a qualified massage therapist, has worked for many people – both short-term and long-term.

  • Andrée

    I had been constipated for 3 days with much discomfort. I read about pears. I fasted for 1 day then had fresh lemon room temperature water with 1 large pear for the following breakfast. Walked, and within 20 minutes, my bowel emptied. Very thankful to the Creator for creating natural foods for our help. Such relief!!

    • Andrée

      As mentioned, the pear needs to be eaten on a completely empty stomach.