You’re bloated and blocked. You strain on the toilet with no results — or with results that are painful. You’re constipated.
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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Contributor: Brooke Gurland, MD