What I need to know about Constipation
On this page:
- What is constipation?
- What can I do about constipation?
- Points to Remember
What is constipation?
Constipation means that a person has three bowel movements or fewer in
a week. The stool is hard and dry. Sometimes it is painful to pass. You
may feel "draggy" and full.
Some people think they should have a bowel movement every day. That is
not really true. There is no "right" number of bowel movements.
Each person's body finds its own normal number of bowel movements. It
depends on the food you eat, how much you exercise, and other things.
At one time or another, almost everyone gets constipated. In most
cases, it lasts for a short time and is not serious. When you understand
what causes constipation, you can take steps to prevent it.
What can I do about constipation?
Changing what you eat and drink and how much you exercise will help
relieve and prevent constipation. Here are some steps you can take.
1. Eat more fiber.
Fiber helps form soft, bulky stool. It is found in many vegetables,
fruits, and grains. Be sure to add fiber a little at a time, so your body
gets used to it slowly. Limit foods that have little or no fiber such as
ice cream, cheese, meat, snacks like chips and pizza, and processed foods
such as instant mashed potatoes or already-prepared frozen dinners. The
chart below lists some high-fiber foods.
||Breads, Cereals, and Beans
|Acorn squash, raw
Brussels sprouts, raw
|Black-eyed peas, cooked
Kidney beans, cooked
Lima beans, cooked
Whole-grain cereal, cold (All-Bran, Total, Bran Flakes)
Whole-grain cereal, hot (oatmeal, Wheatena)
Whole-wheat or 7-grain bread
2. Drink plenty of water and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable
juices and clear soups.
Liquid helps keep the stool soft and easy to pass, so it's important to
drink enough fluids. Try not to drink liquids that contain caffeine or
alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol tend to dry out your digestive system.
3. Get enough exercise.
Regular exercise helps your digestive system stay active and healthy.
You don't need to become a great athlete. A 20- to 30-minute walk every
day may help.
4. Allow yourself enough time to have a bowel movement.
Sometimes we feel so hurried that we don't pay attention to our body's
needs. Make sure you don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
5. Use laxatives only if a doctor says you should.
Laxatives are medicines that will make you pass a stool. Most people
who are mildly constipated do not need laxatives. However, if you are
doing all the right things and you are still constipated, your doctor may
recommend laxatives for a limited time.
Your doctor will tell you if you need a laxative and what type is best
for you. Laxatives come in many forms: liquid, chewing gum, pills, and
powder that you mix with water, for example.
6. Check with your doctor about any medicines you take.
Some medicines can cause constipation. They include calcium pills, pain
pills with codeine in them, some antacids, iron pills, diuretics (water
pills), and medicines for depression. If you take medicine for another
problem, be sure to ask your doctor whether it could cause constipation.
Points to Remember
- Constipation affects almost everyone at one time or another.
- Many people think they're constipated when really they aren't.
- In most cases, following these simple tips will help prevent
- Eat a variety of foods, especially beans, bran, whole grains,
and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
- Understand that normal bowel habits are different for everyone.
- If your bowel habits change, check with your doctor.
- Most people with mild constipation do not need laxatives. However,
doctors may recommend laxatives for a limited time for people with
- Medicines that you take for another problem might cause
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