Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. Typically it happens when there are fewer than three bowel movements per week or when stools are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass.
More specifically, you are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following symptoms for at least 3 months:
• Straining during a bowel movement more than 25% of the time
• Hard stools more than 25% of the time
• Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time
• Two or fewer bowel movements in a week
What causes constipation
Common causes of constipation include:
- Diets low in fiber and water: Fiber and drinks helps stool stay soft.
- Lack of physical activity: If you don’t exercise or move around regularly you may get constipated.
- Medicines: Some medicines can cause constipation.
- Life changes or daily routine changes: Constipation can happen when you travel, if you become pregnant, as you get older...
- Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement: This habit can lead to constipation.
- Certain health problems can make stool move more slowly through your colon, rectum, or anus, causing constipation.
Symptoms & Health complications
- Normal bowel habits vary from person to person. Some people normally go to the toilet more than once a day, whereas it's normal for others to go only every three or four days. If you notice a reduction in the number of times you normally pass stools, this can be a sign of constipation.
- Other signs include: having to strain while passing stools, feeling unable to completely empty your bowel, or having stools appearing dry, hard or abnormally large or small.
- You may also experience: stomach aches and cramps, feeling bloated or sick, a loss of appetite. There may also be occasional diarrhea resulting from hard stool obstructing the colon.
What are the complications of constipation?
Chronic, or long-lasting, constipation can lead to health problems such as:
- hemorrhoids (swollen and inflamed veins around the anus or in the lower rectum)
- anal fissures (small tears that may cause itching, pain, or bleeding)
- rectal prolapse (when the rectum slips so that it sticks out of the anus)
- fecal impaction (when dried, hard stools collect in the rectum and anus)
Treatment & Prevention
How to prevent constipation?
Although constipation is common, you can take several steps to prevent it, among them:
- Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber, as fibers add bulk and some softness to the stools making it easier for the colon to pass them. Foods high in fibre also make you feel fuller for longer.
- Drink a lot of water and other fluids a day. Much of the fluid will be passed as urine, but some is passed out in the gut and softens the stools. But to avoid liquids that contain caffeine, because they have a dehydrating effect. Some people may also need to avoid milk, as dairy products may be constipating for them.
- Exercise regularly, as keeping mobile and active will greatly reduce your risk of getting constipation.
- Move your bowels when you feel the urge.
How to treat constipation?
Treatment for constipation depends on the cause, how long you have the condition and how severe your symptoms are. In many cases it is possible to relieve symptoms through the following dietary and lifestyle changes:
• Increase your daily intake of fibre. High-fibre foods include fruit, vegetables and cereals.
• Add some bulking agents, such as wheat bran, to your diet. These will help make your stools softer and easier to pass.
• Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water.
• Try to get more exercise.
• Implement a routine: you can also try to have a bowel movement at the same time each day when you are comfortably able to spend time on the toilet and you should not delay when you feel the urge.
• Try resting your feet on a low stool while going to the toilet, so that your knees are above your hips, as this can make it easier to pass stools.
• If medication you are taking could be causing constipation, try to be prescribed an alternative.
Treating constipation with herbs
Papaya is one of the best fruit sources of vitamin C, which helps soften the stool. It also contains papain, a protein-digesting enzyme with strong digestive properties that helps properly break proteins down, thus accelerating the transformation into amino acids. This improves absorption and makes it easier to digest and evacuate foods, as well as reducing inflammation, preventing gas, etc...
Spirulina promotes digestion and bowel function. People taking Spirulina often notice an immediate change in bowel regularity and elimination.
The most visible pigment in spirulina is chlorophyll, which helps increase peristaltic action, stimulating the colon to have a bowel movement, thus relieving constipation.
Another health benefit of spirulina is that it stimulates beneficial flora like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria in your digestive tract, aiding assimilation and elimination, thus relieving constipation.