Even if you can’t prevent all constipation, you may be able to reduce its frequency or severity by eating enough fibre, drinking enough fluids, exercising, and maintaining good toilet habits.
The following small changes in your daily habits may help relieve constipation:
Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet:
For best general health and colon function, aim to consume about 20 to 30 grams of fibre every day. Derived from plants, fibre is the indigestible portion of food. Fibre may cause bloating and discomfort, especially if you’re not used to it, so be sure to “fibre up” over several days or weeks by gradually increasing your intake of:
- Vegetables and fruits (ideally with the skin)
- Whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas
- Legumes such as beans and peas
- Nuts and seeds.
Note: If you have narrowings (strictures) or scar tissue in your digestive tract, significantly increasing your fibre intake can cause a bowel obstruction; if you have had any previous surgeries or blockages (e.g. due to adhesions), discuss this with your doctor before making any big changes in your diet.
There are two types of fibre:
- Soluble fibre: this type dissolves in water and keeps water in the digestive system. Sources include oatmeal, lentils, apples, oranges, nuts, beans, celery, and carrots. Pectin (found in apples, strawberries, lychees, and pears) is a form of soluble fibre.
- Insoluble fibre: this type does not dissolve in water and adds bulk or “roughage” that helps move stool through the digestive system. Sources include whole grains, bran, seeds, nuts, celery, broccoli, dark leafy vegetables, fruit, and root vegetable skins.
You can also eat foods with probiotics and prebiotics
Such as yogurt, kefir, bananas, whole-grain breads and honey, which help soften stool and ease its passage through the colon.
Avoiding or limiting fat
Foods that are greasy, fried, or high in animal fat or contain refined sugar, such as candy and rich desserts can contribute to constipation.
Increasing consumption of healthy liquids
Aim for 8-10 glasses a day of liquid which can include water, juices, milk, soup or other beverages. Avoid liquids with caffeine, alcohol or are rich with lots of sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Increasing your activity level
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to sluggish bowels. Regular exercise – even walking – can help boost bowel activity.
Developing “regularity” in your lifestyle.
Try to find a consistent time every day to relax and have a bowel movement, your body will become accustomed to this pattern over time. Remember to avoid straining.
- Try to eat at regular and consistent times.
- Establish regular sleeping patterns.
Avoiding overuse of certain laxatives.
Regular use of certain stimulant laxatives may decrease your “bowel tone,” resulting in poor bowel function. Watch for herbal laxatives, which may contain stimulants. Other laxatives that help you retain more water and are safe for regular use. Always check with your doctor before using any laxatives on a regular basis.
Taking care of your general well-being
Don’t smoke, limit alcohol, and adopt strategies to manage time and cope with stress.
How should I prepare for a doctor appointment about constipation?
Good communication with your doctor is an important part of managing your digestive health, regardless of your diagnosis. To ensure that all doctors have the most accurate information about you, it’s a good idea to keep a journal in which you:
- Write down the symptoms that are bothering you, and for how long you have had them.
- Write down key personal and medical information, including any recent changes or stressful events in your life.
- Jot down triggers (such as food, stress, activity, or menstrual cycle) that seem to make your symptoms worse.
- Make a list of medications are you taking, including the conditions you take them for; this should include any non-prescription medications, probiotics or herbal preparations you may use. Also note if any of your medications seem to affect your symptoms.
- Create a list of the health-related questions you would like your doctor to answer during your appointment.
Depending on your specific symptoms and diagnosis, here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor:
- What do you think is causing my symptoms?
- Are there other possible causes for my condition?
- What diagnostic tests do I need?
- Do these tests require any special preparation?
- What treatment approach do you recommend trying first?
- If the first treatment doesn’t work, what will we try next?
- Are there any side effects associated with these treatments?