Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Are you fecally challenged?
Constipation is a condition that affects about 16 out of every 100 adults and about 33 out of 100 adults ages 60 or older in the US.
Constipation can be described as having fewer than 3 bowel movements a week. It occurs when your colon absorbs too much water from your body's fecal waste (known as stool or poop), which dries it out and makes it hard and difficult to pass.
Some common symptoms of constipation include bloating, lumpy or hard stool, straining to pass stool, feeling as if there is a blockage preventing the stool from passing, or feeling as though you can’t completely empty the stool from your rectum.
Constipation can be caused by dehydration, low activity levels, pelvic floor dysfunction, irritable bowel syndrome, medications such as opioids, and supplements such as iron and calcium. It can also be the cause of an IC flare, which can send you into a painful spiral.
Wondering how you can beat constipation? Below I will outline the 5 most important tips to help you beat constipation.
Tip #1- Drink More Water
Did you know constipation is related to dehydration? Staying hydrated will ensure less water is drawn from the colon, leaving your stool soft and easier to pass. If you are dehydrated, the water will get drawn from the colon and leave your stool hard...which is not going to be a comfortable trip to the bathroom.
So, how do you know if you’re getting enough water? I like to recommend aiming for at least 64 oz per day - that's the equivalent of 8 cups or 4 standard plastic water bottles. You could also use a different method that estimates needing about 1/2 of your body weight (pounds) in ounces of water. For example, if a person weighs 140 pounds, they could aim to drink 70 oz ounces per day.
A few great ways to increase your water intake could be keeping a reusable water bottle with you (I like using one with a straw), setting daily goals, replacing other drinks with water, or even flavoring your water with IC-friendly fruit.
Tip #2- Eat More Fiber
Fiber normalizes bowel movements and helps maintain bowel health. Dietary fiber (fiber obtained by foods you eat) increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it while also promoting the movement of material through your digestive system. Isn't that amazing?!
There are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber creates a gel as it dissolves, which helps aid digestion. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, apples, carrots, and psyllium.
Insoluble fiber attracts water, keeping the stool soft and easy to pass. It can be found in whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.
For a list of IC-friendly sources of fiber, click here.
The current recommendation is that men should get 38 grams of fiber per day, while women should get 25 grams of fiber per day.
There are many over-the-counter fiber supplements available, but be cautious when searching. Fiber supplements reported as being well-tolerated by people with IC include acacia fiber and Metamucil®.
An important thing to know is that there is such a thing as too much fiber. Too much fiber can cause gas, bloating, and pain. If you plan to increase the amount of fiber you eat, do it slowly and make sure to drink enough water.
Tip #3- Exercise Exercise can reduce symptoms of constipation by lowering the time it takes food to pass through your colon/large intestine. This, in turn, limits the amount of water your body absorbs from the stool making it easier to pass.
If you suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction, this can also make pooping difficult. This article explains the relationship between the pelvic floor muscles and pooping easily understandable and gives some tips to help. Also, seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist may help with constipation.
Having a consistent exercise regimen will help prevent constipation and will also help if you do become constipated. Make a plan to take a walk or two throughout the day or even do some yoga. Simply getting up and moving can help relieve constipation.
Tip #4- Give Yourself Time in the AM
Our bowels are not active when we sleep, so they need a little bit of time to wake up in the morning. Your body actually has an emptying reflex that occurs approximately 30 minutes after a meal or drinking a hot beverage. Try getting up earlier and enjoy a hot cup of chamomile or marshmallow root tea which will give your body ample time for its emptying reflex to kick in.
Tip #5- Abdominal Massage
This tip is my go-to when I'm constipated and works like a charm.
An abdominal massage can help teach your bowel muscles what to do and ease some of your symptoms. Research has shown that massaging your abdomen when you’re constipated can help ease pain and discomfort, lower the time it takes the waste to pass through your intestine, and trigger muscle contractions and relaxation. A few massage techniques to utilize are effleurage and kneading.
Here is an example of a full abdominal massage step by step:
*A good time to perform this massage could be when you would normally expect to have a bowel movement.
Lay down on the floor or on a firm mattress.
Bend your knees toward your chest in order to ease the tension of the abdomen and reduce any pain you may have when pressing on tender spots.
Start by forming the letter “I” by stroking with moderate pressure from under the left ribcage down to the front of the left hipbone, 10 times.
Next, form the letter “L” by stroking with moderate pressure from the right side of the ribcage, underneath the ribcage to the left, and down to the front of the left hipbone, forming the letter “L”.
Stroke 10 times from the front of the right hipbone up to the right ribcage, across to the left ribcage, and down to the left hip bone, forming the letter “U”. These strokes follow the path of the large intestine, helping to calm it if it is irritated, and increasing the motility (movement) of food in your gut.
Finish with 1-2 minutes of a clockwise circular massage 2-3 inches away from the belly button to stimulate the small intestine.
Constipation is one of the most common reasons why people see a doctor. So remember, stay hydrated, eat lots of fiber, and keep moving. By incorporating a few of these helpful tips into your daily life, you can beat constipation and keep IC flares to a minimum.
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