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Clearing the Colon: A Guide to Constipation Management

Edited by Claire Butler

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Whether we like to admit it or not, constipation is a problem we all go through at some point in our lives. When your bowel movements are infrequent or difficult, it is not only uncomfortable but can lead to other issues such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and intestinal blockages. Luckily, there are many ways to treat constipation, some as simple as lifestyle changes, or for more stubborn cases, medications.

What causes constipation?

Constipation can be caused by many different factors including lifestyle, certain medications and medical conditions. Constipation tends to be more common in females and individuals over the age of 65. In terms of lifestyle, having a low-caloric intake, lack of fibre (fruits and vegetables) in your diet, travel and inactivity can contribute to developing constipation. Constipation is a common side effect of many medications, including opioids, antidepressants, and diuretics (“water pills”). Medical conditions such as pregnancy, Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disorders, and depression can also lead to constipation.

What are the symptoms?

Constipation is typically defined as having less than 3 bowel movements per week. Other symptoms that present with constipation include bloating, straining, abdominal discomfort, and the sensation of incomplete voiding and blockage. Stools that are hard and lumpy are a sign of constipation as they move more slowly than regular stools, making them more difficult to pass through the bowel. Constipation can either be acute, where the symptoms last less than 3 months, or chronic, where symptoms occur for more than 3 months.

How can I manage the constipation?

Constipation can be treated with simple lifestyle changes. Firstly, do not ignore the urge to defecate. If needed, placing a footstool in front of the toilet may help to position the pelvis to allow for easier defecation. Further, increasing your daily physical activity can stimulate the bowels, making stools easier to pass. Dietary adjustments to help with constipation include increasing your dietary fibre intake and fluid intake; this can add weight to the stools, decreasing the time it takes for them to pass through the bowels. Some examples of fibre-rich foods include beans, chickpeas, lentils, blackberries, avocados, raspberries, and nuts.

There are also medications which can be used to treat constipation. These include bulk-forming laxatives, emollients, osmotic laxatives, and stimulant laxatives.