The Best Things You Can Do to Ease Your Constipation

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What To Do for Constipation

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Whether you find yourself dealing with occasional bouts of constipation or the chronic health conditions of constipation-predominant-IBS (IBS-C) or chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC), you know the distress of having bowel movements that happen infrequently and are made up of stools that are small, hard, and painful to pass. Gas and bloating usually come along for the ride. You may find that you are straining and that you end up with a sense of incomplete emptying. So frustrating!

Constipation occurs when the contractions of the colon are too slow, which causes too much water to be drawn out of the stool, and results in infrequent bowel movements. Why this happens is not always clear. What is clear is that there are certain things you can do on your own to try to ease your discomfort and get things moving again! Some of these things are based on science, while some are based on common sense or folk wisdom. Don't skip the last slide - it will offer you articles that will provide you with in-depth information related to many of the recommendations.

Note: If you are dealing with constipation on a regular basis, be sure to tell your doctor so as to obtain a proper diagnosis.

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1. Eat More Fruits

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Due to their fiber content, most fruits will help to soften stools and work toward easing constipation. However, the following fruits have a particular reputation for easing constipation. It is just a coincidence that they all start with the letter "p", but it does give you an easy way to remember what to buy when you are in the grocery store!

  • Papaya*
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple*
  • Prunes

*These fruits are low in FODMAPs and therefore may be a better starter choice for you if you have IBS.

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2. Eat More Vegetables

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Similar to fruit, eating more vegetables, particularly those that are high in soluble fiber, on a regular basis will be helpful in keeping your system more regular. Some people report better results when eating cooked vegetables as opposed to raw.

Here are some vegetable choices with a reputation for easing constipation:

Greens

  • Kale*
  • Spinach*
  • Swiss chard*

Vegetables

  • Artichoke hearts*
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli*
  • Carrots*
  • Green beans

Beans

  • Canella beans
  • Pinto beans
  • White beans

*Appropriate on a low-FODMAP diet for those of you who have IBS. Canned artichoke hearts should be well-rinsed and limited to a 1/8 cup serving.

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3. Increase Your Fiber Intake

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In addition to eating more vegetables and fruits, there are a couple of other ways to take in more dietary fiber. 

1. Add some seeds to your diet.

The following seeds are good sources of soluble fiber and thus may soften stools and ease constipation. 

2. Try a fiber supplement.

Fiber supplements, also known as bulk laxatives, are products that are typically available over-the-counter. Psyllium has some research support for its effectiveness, while Citrucel may be more appropriate for those on a low-FODMAP diet, as it is non-fermentable.

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4. Try Magnesium

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There is anecdotal support for taking a magnesium supplement. Magnesium helps to relax the muscles lining the walls of the colon, resulting in a smoother rhythm of contractions, therefore pushing stool along more easily. Magnesium also attracts water into the colon making for softer, easier to pass, stools: 

Wondering how much to take? You can consult this fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health and then check in with your doctor.

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5. Try Heat

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Try sleeping with a hot water bottle or a heating pad. There may be no research that says that it will help, but it certainly isn't going to hurt (as long as you don't put the heating pad right on your bare skin!) Heat can be very soothing psychologically and theoretically it may serve to relax the muscles of your abdomen so that they function more smoothly in the morning - leading you to a satisfying bowel movement.

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6. Train Your Body

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For most people, the complicated system that triggers the urge to defecate is at its peak in the morning. Unfortunately for people with chronic constipation, this system is out of whack. Try to re-awaken this sleepy response. Make sure to eat a substantial breakfast to stimulate the gastrocolic reflex, a response in which intestinal contractions are triggered by the act of eating. Than be sure to schedule time each morning to have a relaxing trip to the bathroom following breakfast. Never force or strain, just make the time for your body to re-establish its regular biorhythms.

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7. Try Biofeedback

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Biofeedback is a form of treatment in which you re-train the muscles of your pelvic area through the use of feedback from sensors. This treatment can be effective if your constipation is the result of a condition known as dyssynergic constipation. Although biofeedback in this area may sound like an embarrassing experience, I have spoken with many people who found the treatment to be comfortable and helpful.

Source:s

Ford, A., et.al. "American College of Gastroenterology Monograph on the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Idiopathic Constipation" American Journal of Gastroenterology 2014 109:S2-S26.

Lee, Y. "What’s New in the Toolbox for Constipation and Fecal Incontinence?" Frontiers in Medicine 2014 1:5.

Jones, J. et.al. British Society of Gastroenterology guidelines for the management of irritable bowel syndrome Gut 2000 47:ii1-19.

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