Is constipation ruining your life?
We would probably all agree that what happens in the bathroom should stay in the bathroom. But sometimes what should happen in the bathroom doesn’t go smoothly, and spoils your whole day.
Constipation happens to many people, so we are going to talk about it, whether we like it or not.
What exactly is constipation?
Simply put, you are likely suffering from constipation if you are struggling with bowel movements or having less than three bowel movements per week.
You are not alone in suffering the discomfort that comes from this condition, as it is one of the most common digestive complaints.
Other symptoms apart from straining and fewer bowel movements include:
- Lumpy or hard stools
- Feeling like your bowel movement was incomplete
- Feeling bloated
- Tummy pain and cramps
- Loss of appetite
What happens in your body when you are constipated?
Some people are more prone to constipation than others. Growing old is challenging at times, and battling with bowel movements might become a problem as the years go on.
This is because older people are less active, have a slower metabolism and less muscle contraction strength than in their youth.
Pregnancy and childbirth can also leave you vulnerable to constipation. This is due to both hormonal changes and the baby pressing down on the intestines, leaving less room for stools to pass through.
Other causes of constipation include:
- Not enough fibre in your diet, especially when you consume plenty of milk, meat and cheese.
- Not drinking enough water.
- Not getting enough exercise.
- A change in your routine.
- Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement.
- Certain types of medication.
During the digestive process food moves through the digestive tract where the nutrients you need to stay healthy gets absorbed.
Everything that remains (waste) gets pushed from the small intestine to the large intestine (colon). This waste gets turned into stool when the colon absorbs water from it.
Constipation happens when something causes the colon muscles to contract slower and less forcefully. Now waste material stays in the colon for a longer period, so more water can be absorbed from it.
This leads to the formation of dry, hard stools that are difficult to pass.
What are the long-term dangers of constipation?
This uncomfortable condition is generally not life-threatening, and fairly easy to sort out by lifestyle changes such as more fibre in your diet and increased exercise.
In some cases though it is better to be safe than sorry. Schedule an appointment with your GP if:
- The problem doesn’t go away after two weeks.
- You have blood in your stool.
- You have abdominal pain as well as pain during bowel movements.
- You are experiencing unexplained weight loss.
Avoiding professional help could turn the condition more serious, with some extremely unpleasant consequences.
WebMD describes the following complications that may arise from chronic constipation:
- Haemorrhoids. Also known as piles, this condition sets in when you push too hard trying to have a bowel movement. This causes the veins around your rectum and anus to swell.
Piles are a bit like varicose veins around your anus, and they can occur under the skin around the anus (external) or in the lining of your anus/rectum (internal).
Haemorrhoids can be itchy and painful. When blood pools inside a haemorrhoid, a painful, hard lump develops. Bleeding during bowel movements can occur.
- Anal fissures. Difficulty passing stools can cause tears in the tissue around your anus. These are itchy, painful and can bleed.
These tiny tears make passing stools a painful experience, therefore your constipation can get worse if you avoid going due to the pain.
- Impaction. When stools remain in your body, it starts to stick together in your intestines, forming a hardened mass which causes a blockage.
This is painful and can lead to vomiting. In some cases you might even end up having to rush to hospital. Impaction is more likely to occur in children and older people.
- Rectal prolapse. Repeatedly straining to pass stools can cause your rectum to stretch and slip out of your body.
Both a rectal prolapse and haemorrhoids cause a bulging out of the anus, so it’s easy to get these two conditions confused.
It’s important though to get medical assistance because they require different treatments.
|How often should you ‘go’? |
How many bowel movements per day is normal? This is an important question to ask, because a change in what is normal could indicate a potential medical problem.
In this case, normal is not the same for every person. The secret to what is normal for you is to establish your own pattern.
Some people do not even have bowel movements every day and that is normal for them, while others will visit the loo a few times per day – also normal.
An easy solution for constipation is an over-the-counter laxative. These are, however, not suitable for long-term use because your body might become dependent on them for bowel movements.
Do not take laxatives for longer than two weeks. If your symptoms persist, rather make an appointment with your doctor.
What you should do to prevent constipation
This is not news, and it’s not particularly exciting. But the best way to have a healthy, functioning body is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
If you are prone to constipation it’s vital to ensure that your diet consists of food that is high in dietary fibre and plenty of water.
You could even use the services of a nutritionist to help you compile an eating plan best suited to keep constipation at bay.
Alternatively, experiment with your diet and see how your body responds to different types of food. Here is a list of foods that could potentially worsen your constipation:
- As already mentioned, dairy products and too much meat.
- Refined carbs such as baked goods, white rice, white bread and breakfast cereal.
- Garlic, onions and shallots
- Sweeteners like xylitol
Apart from managing your diet, taking care of other aspects of your health plays a vital role in constipation prevention.
Regular exercise improves your life in so many ways that no excuses justify a lazy lifestyle. Just do it – you will start enjoying it in no time if you just stick to it.
Keeping a keen eye on your mental health is also likely to improve your digestive health. There is no shame in getting help for anxiety, and learning how to manage your stress.
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Just like with exercise (which, by the way, is great for stress relief), working on your mental health will not only lead to better bowel movements, but a better quality of life overall.
Furthermore, never resist the impulse to have a bowel movement. Yes, sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances where we are not quite comfortable using the loo. Do it anyway. Everyone has to.
Lastly, you should discuss other health conditions that can cause constipation with your doctor, as well as the possibility of your current medication being the constipation-causing culprit.
Your handy list of high fibre foods:
- Kidney beans
- Flax seeds
- Pomegranate seeds
- Chia seeds
- Split peas
- Sweet potato
- Wholegrain bread
- Rolled oats
7 ways to feel better with home remedies
Switching to a healthier lifestyle is not something you can start early in the morning in order to feel better by lunchtime, it takes time.
So, if your constipation is not serious enough for a visit to the doctor, what can you do?
- Do you know someone who won’t visit the loo before they had their morning coffee? Turns out they aren’t just being weird.
Coffee stimulates the digestive muscles and increases the need to go to the bathroom in some people.
- Senna products are freely available to purchase at places like Clicks, or online from Takealot. Senna is a herbal laxative that is mostly considered safe and effective.
It is not however recommended for pregnant women or patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.
- Taking probiotics can help things along in your gut. They are naturally occurring healthy bacteria, but we can ingest probiotics via supplement or certain types of food.
Foods that naturally contain probiotics include yoghurt and sauerkraut.
- Glucomannan is a type of soluble fibre that could bring some relief from constipation. It is found in the root of the konjac plant, and if you want some you can eat some shirataki noodles or take a supplement.
- Magnesium supplements can be a helpful over the counter treatment for constipation. It has the added bonus of multiple other health benefits.
- Good old prunes. Not only do they contain fibre, but they also contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which acts as a laxative. Try eating about seven medium-sized prunes twice per day.
This treatment is not recommended if you suffer from IBS.
- Over-the-counter laxatives offer an effective short-term solution.
|You won’t believe this It is difficult to say how long the average person can survive without a bowel movement, because this will be different from one person to the next.|
But, in 2013 an Indian woman managed to go 45 days without passing stools. The 28-year-old woman needed surgery to remove a football-sized faecal mass from her intestines.
It’s not clear what caused her condition, but it’s safe to say doctors will strongly recommend that you take care of your gut health – if only to avoid having to do that kind of surgery.
Constipation is a common condition and most of the time not serious. It’s still not something to ignore, as it can lead to uncomfortable, painful and potentially embarrassing medical conditions.
As always, the golden rule is to follow a healthy lifestyle, and to get professional help when that is not enough.