If you frequently experience painful or uncomfortable bowel movements, or find that you pass less than 3 stools per week, you may be dealing with chronic constipation.
Although constipation can affect people of all ages and genders, it seems to be more prevalent in women, and tends to increase in severity as we age. Although constipation is a common ailment, it is not a sign of a normal, healthy digestive tract. Chronic constipation is your body’s way of signaling that there is something going on beneath the surface that requires your attention.
What Is Constipation?
Constipation is often defined as the slow, painful, or infrequent passage of stool, and can be a temporary or chronic condition.
Temporary constipation often occurs after a significant change in diet, lifestyle, medication or a recent surgery. Chronic constipation is the result of an underlying issue, like slow movement of your bowels, irritable bowel- if it’s coupled with abdominal pain-, bloating, or other digestive conditions. However, it can also be the result of lifestyle factors, like an inadequate diet, lack of fluid intake, certain medications, or stress and lack of movement or a combination of these!
While most adults experience some level of constipation at some point in their lives, a chronic moderate to severe constipation can negatively impact your health and quality of life.
5 Most Causes of Constipation
Studies have shown that constipation affects 15% of the female population, and only 5% of the male population in North America. Unfortunately, this condition affects up to 29% of the global population, making it one of the most common gastrointestinal ailments. While we still don’t have all the answers as to why women are more susceptible than males, factors such as stress, female sex hormones, menstrual cycles, female pelvic and pelvic floor anatomy, and pregnancy may play a significant role in those statistics.
When it comes down to addressing your symptoms, it is important to look into some of the most common causes, and make adequate changes to minimize or reverse your condition.
When addressing the root cause of your constipation, one of the first things you will want to take into consideration is your diet. The over-consumption of processed foods, dairy products, and meat without sufficient fiber intake can often cause gastrointestinal distress that leads to constipation. Experts recommend that you aim for a minimum daily intake of 30-35 grams of fiber to soften your stool and maintain healthy bowel movements. Some great sources of fiber to incorporate into your diet include:
- Whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, oats, and barley.
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, arugula and kale
- Root vegetables, like beets, carrots, turnips, radishes, sweet potato and fennel.
- Legumes, like lentils, pinto beans, black beans, and chickpeas.
- Fruit, like apples, strawberry, dates, pears and berries
- Seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower l, flax and chia.
- Nuts and nut butters, like peanut, almond, pecans, and pistachios.
- And avocado… never forget the avocado.
A balanced diet is critical to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, and reducing the likelihood of gastrointestinal issues.
In addition to a healthy intake of fibrous foods, it is equally important to ensure that your daily intake of fluids, particularly plain, filtered water, is adequate. Mild chronic dehydration has been linked to constipation, so incorporating plenty of healthy fluids will play a key role in alleviating your symptoms. If drinking 2-3 liters of plain water a day is difficult for you in the beginning, try sipping on some herbal tea or eating hydrating fruits like watermelon to increase your fluid intake for the day.
Lack of Exercise
A sedentary lifestyle has been proven to cause of many health conditions, including chronic constipation. Studies show that adequate physical activity creates a positive response in the colon, strengthening the muscles needed for healthy bowel movements. Incorporating regular physical activity into your day, or even a scheduled fitness routine, is a great way to complement your increased intake of fluids and fiber. All of this keeps your digestive tract healthy and functioning properly. Read more about the benefits of exercise here!
Patients who deal with certain medical conditions that affect the nerves and muscles often lead to constipation. Some of the most common conditions that lead to constipation include
- Parkinson’s disease
- Thyroid disorders
Additionally, some medications often have side effects that include gastrointestinal issues like constipation. Some of these constipation inducing meds include:
- Anti-Parkinson drugs
- Oral contraceptives
- Anti-Epileptic drugs
- Food supplements containing calcium and iron
Underlying Digestive issues
There are also digestive issues that can cause constipation. These range from disruptive, though not serious, to life threatening. These include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Lazy bowel syndrome
- Pelvic Floor dysfunction
- Diverticular Disease
- Intestinal obstruction
- Colorectal cancer
If you suspect you have any of these conditions, you should contact a gastroenterologist immediately. If you suspect intestinal obstruction, go to the emergency room.
Constipation Diagnosis & Treatment
If you have been experiencing symptoms of constipation, the first course of action is to make some lifestyle adjustments. However, if your symptoms persist or are accompanied by rectal bleeding, severe constipation, abdominal pain, anemia or unintentional weight loss, it is time to consult your doctor as soon as possible.
To get to the root cause of your constipation, your physician may run a series of tests. After taken a thorough medical history, they may use one or more the following tests:
- Barium enema
- X Rays
Other methods of diagnosis include conducting a colorectal transit study, or anorectal function tests that may provide insight as to why you are having gastrointestinal distress.
6 Ways to Get Rid of Your Constipation!
- Lifestyle: Include a variety of fiber rich foods and increase water intake. Optimize your activity level by going on walks or doing exercise at least 3-5 days per week.
- Avoid certain supplements: Have a frank conversation with your doctor about all the medications and supplements you’re taking and discontinue whatever you don’t really need.
- Address your underlying health issues by visiting your gastroenterologist.
- Use proper toileting practices: Don’t sit too long on the toilet, and try not to strain for an extended period of time. You can also use a squatty potty to elevate your legs and put yourself in a more optimal pooping position.
- Have a pelvic floor evaluation and biofeedback therapy.
- Use medications like Stool softeners and laxatives after consulting with your doctor.
Do You Need Help?
If making the necessary diet and lifestyle changes does not resolve the constipation ask your physician. They will begin looking into some other potential causes and create a treatment plan to help alleviate your discomfort.
While constipation is a common, it can have quite a significant impact on your quality of life. Untreated constipation can cause hemorrhoids, fissures, and even rectal prolapse caused by straining during bowel movements. When it comes to alleviating your symptoms, knowledge is power! If you are experiencing uncomfortable and chronic constipation, it can be difficult or embarrassing to ask for help.
To improve your gut health through lifestyle and nutrition and take control of your life, download the Doctor Mendez Gut Health Guide, or register as a new patient and book an appointment to discuss your gut health with Doctor Mendez today!
This post is for education only! For medical advice contact your doctor!