constipation

Constipation: Causes and Treatments

Beyond feeling uncomfortable, constipation can lead to a variety of complications. Constipation treatments can help relieve your discomfort and avoid complications such as:

  • Mild hemorrhoids
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Small tears in the anus
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Fecal impaction
  • Intestinal obstruction

Furthermore, stool contains waste materials and toxins. Your body must eliminate them to maintain proper gut function and overall health.

So, if you’re experiencing constipation, be sure to treat it as soon as possible. Not only will you feel better, but your health can improve.

In this article, we’ll discuss constipation causes and treatments to understand the condition.

constipation - unhealthy meal with burgers, fries, and donuts

Constipation Causes

There are many causes associated with constipation. Making small changes can help you avoid experiencing this condition.

Dietary imbalance is a leading cause of constipation. Not consuming enough fiber or water every day can affect your bowel movements.

Changes in your lifestyle such as traveling, pregnancy, or diet changes can cause constipation. Living a sedentary life also leads to this condition. In elderly people, there are multiple factors including lack of exercise, diet, medical conditions, and medications.

Some medications have constipation as a side effect. These medications include:

  • Opioids
  • Iron
  • Antihistamines
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Sedatives
  • Antacids based on aluminum
  • Aluminum hydroxide
  • Bismuth subsalicylate
  • Antihypertensives

Be sure to ask your doctor about the side effects before taking new medication.

Certain medical conditions can also cause constipation. The most common conditions include:

Of course, there are many other conditions that have constipation as a symptom.

Constipation can also develop after an illness that required prolonged bedrest and a limited diet. Sometimes we can’t identify the cause of constipation.

constipation relief - psyllium

Constipation Treatment

There are plenty of treatment options, both medically and lifestyle-based to treat constipation. To avoid constipation, try making dietary changes. You should also manage underlying conditions that cause constipation like IBS or diabetes. To relieve symptoms, use laxatives and medications.

Dietary Changes

When making dietary changes, be sure to add more fiber to your diet and drink more water. It’s important to have at least eight glasses of water daily, starting with a couple of them in the morning. You should also consume 15-20 grams of fiber daily from vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Fiber supplements are available and can help in case of normal transit constipation. However, they are less effective in cases of slow transit constipation. Many fiber-rich foods are high in FODMAP and could aggravate IBS. Fiber supplements can also cause discomfort and interfere with the absorption of some drugs.

Laxatives

There are a few different kinds of laxatives you can take for constipation relief.

One method includes bulking agents. Examples include psyllium, methylcellulose, and calcium polycarbophil. It’s important to start with low amounts and gradually increase the dose. These are gentle, safe laxatives that promote softer, bulkier stool. You can use these daily.
If psyllium causes bloating, switch to synthetic fiber like methylcellulose.

Osmotic agents contain compounds that are poorly absorbed and remain in the intestine. While there, they draw water in and stimulate gut peristalsis. They usually work within a few hours. Examples include magnesium, phosphate, sulfate preparations, polyethylene glycol, and lactulose.

Osmotic laxatives are relatively safe, even when used regularly. Individuals with kidney or heart problems and the elderly should use them with caution.

Another option is secretory/stimulant cathartics. They work by irritating the mucosa of the gut or by stimulating the nerves and muscles needed for a bowel movement. Only use these as a short-term solution. Examples include bisacodyl, castor oil, and anthraquinones like senna, cascara sagrada, rhubarb, and aloe. Anthraquinones are available over the counter or are herbal supplements.

Lubiprostone is another laxative that helps the colon secrete more fluid. Unlike other stimulant laxatives, lubiprostone is safe for prolonged use.

Side effects associated with this class of laxatives include:

  • Melanosis coli – a dark brownish pigmentation of the colon and rectum
  • Cathartic colon – nerve damage to the colon due to laxative abuse

Mu-opioid receptor antagonists are drugs to treat constipation caused by opioid medications. People use this when other laxative options do not help. Examples include methylnaltrexone and alvimopan. Side effects include abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and diarrhea.

Enema

You can administer enemas at home with plain tap water or hypertonic solutions. These are quick solutions to relieving and managing constipation.

constipation - woman meditating

Other Treatment Options

Along with standard recommendations, try improving your lifestyle. Your diet is important beyond fiber intake. Start your morning with a couple of glasses of hot water and lemon. Sip and eat slowly. Add a variety of vegetables and fruit of all colors to your diet. You can also eat quality meats, fish, some grains, and legumes. To flavor your food, use herbs and spices. Remember, all micro and macronutrients are important for optimal digestion.

Try to eat at regular times. Avoid heavy, fatty, large dinners and have a 12 hour fasting period during the night.

Exercise stimulates gut peristalsis. It’s a good idea to work out most days of the week.
Many people benefit from squatting when they have a bowel movement. Squatty Potties are available online to help with this position. Based on research, squatting creates an angle in the rectal area that can lead to less strain.

Stress management is also important as stress affects the gut-brain axis, digestion, and gut peristalsis. Practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, or tai chi on a regular basis.
Explore the benefits of other natural supplements for constipation and symptoms like:

  • Probiotics
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Peppermint tea
  • Triphala
  • Slippery elm
  • Mastic gum

Finally, sleep well. Your quality of sleep directly relates to your sleep health and bowel habits.