Like its polar opposite, diarrhea, constipation can be a very uncomfortable condition to have and one that is not exactly something you can confide easily to somebody else. After all, the fact that you’re having problems excreting your waste or how hard and big your fecal matter was this morning isn’t exactly the best topic for conversation, isn’t it? Just the same, constipation, like diarrhea, is something that you should take care of as soon as possible, if only for the fact that its presence can affect your lifestyle.
Constipation is a digestive system condition in which a person has difficulty excreting his or her fecal matter because it has become hard and dry. Bowel movements also tend to become infrequent. Sometimes, constipation becomes so severe that it not only prevents the passage of stools, but it blocks gas as well. In this case, constipation is termed as obstipation.
While constipation affects every person regardless of age or sex, it has been observed that it affects the children and elderly more and women more than men. Among the elderly, constipation is more common because bowel muscles tend to diminish with age. Elderly people tend to take more medications as well, which may cause constipation side effects.
There are many causes of constipation, among them improper chewing of food and dehydration causing the hardening of feces, conditions in the digestive tract causing a diminishing or absence of the peristaltic action, or just plain inadequate toilet function and facilities. The good news is that constipation isn’t immediately indicative of a serious underlying condition or disease, unless it persists unnaturally even after treatment.
There are several things you can do to get rid of constipation:
Get plenty of fluids every day. Water helps in the balance of electrolytes and hydration in your body. The digestive system, in particular, depends on how much water and fluids are in your body to properly function. Your colon also regulates the amount of water or fluid present in your stool so it can easily move through your large intestine. If your body does not have enough water or fluid, your stool will be too dry, inducing constipation. The recommended intake of water is eight glasses a day, which should be sufficient enough to keep your digestive system moving properly.
Fluids also provide the mucus that is necessary to keep things moistened and lubricated for more efficient fecal movement in the colon. What exactly is the mucus’ role? Mucus protects and lubricates the colon linings. Without the lubrication provided by the mucus, the colon’s nerve endings are exposed. When waste passes through the colon, it will scrape these nerve endings and cause damage. The damage caused by the nerve endings interferes with the communication between the colon and the brain. The result is a slowing down of muscular activity in the colon which leads to, you guessed it, constipation.
Furthermore, mucus encourages the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon that keep it clean, help to break waste down further and help transform soluble fiber into fatty acids that lubricate the colon.
Get plenty of fiber in your diet. Dietary fiber is the insoluble and indigestible component of plants or plant foods that helps in the movement of the food in the digestive system. Fiber absorbs water and makes defecation that much easier. The most common sources of fiber are bran wheat and vegetables.
How does fiber help in the easing of bowel movements through the colon? In simple terms, consumption of insoluble fiber helps retain the water in the colon, producing softer stool. Specifically, each fiber particle soaks up any available liquid and becomes a minute gel bead. These become an important component of the stool, specifically what gives the stool its roughage and bulk. For people who eat too little fiber, there won’t be enough fiber particles to form the gel, resulting in dry stool that becomes hard and small. If the stool was soft and bulky, it wouldn’t have any problems moving through the colon, but since it is hard and dry, it tends to stick to the dry wall of the colon, often requiring that you strain to get it out, especially if your colon is not capable of producing high-pressure waves to facilitate movement.
Get some regular exercise. Exercise is one of those things that offers nothing but benefits for you (unless you overdo it, in which case it will do more harm than good, as is the case of everything that’s done in excess). Aside from making you more fit and energetic, exercise also helps to get rid of your constipation problem.
Any physical activity that requires exertion on your part (like exercise) helps decrease the time it would take for food to move through the large intestine, limiting the amount of water that is absorbed from the stool and into your body. Aerobic exercises also help accelerate your heart rate and breathing, stimulating the contractions of intestinal muscles. Intestinal muscles that contract properly move the stools out quickly.
You don’t even have to engage in any strenuous exercise like dedicated gym work in order to be effective. A simple walking regimen several times a day, even if it’s just 10 to 15 minutes, is enough to keep that blood pumping and help your digestive system function at its optimum level. For the more fit people, aerobics and yoga positions can also help.
Try using some stool softener medicines or laxatives. Stool softener medicines are sometimes called emollient laxatives. They add moisture to the stool, preventing it from hardening. Docusate is the active ingredient in these stool softeners. Docusates do not stimulate the bowel movement, so in this regard, they are generally used to prevent constipation rather than treat it. Some of the more common stool softeners are Colace and Sulfak, which are readily available at any pharmacy.
Stimulant laxatives, on the other hand, induce bowel movements. They do this by increasing the muscle contraction in the intestines. However, it should be noted that long-term use of these laxatives can have adverse side-effects. Frequent and prolonged use causes the nerves of the colon to slowly disappear, withers the colon muscles and dilates the colon. In the end, constipation becomes much more of a problem instead of getting cured.
It is often more productive and easier to just prevent constipation rather than treat it. Exercise, a fiber-filled diet and daily intake of fluids go a long way to prevent constipation. Medicinal treatments are almost always the last option. In most cases, natural is still the way.