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The Basics of Constipation

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How Can I Prevent Constipation?

There are several things you can do to prevent constipation. Among them:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber. Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal (especially bran). Fiber and water help the colon pass stool.
  • Drink 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of water and other fluids a day (unless fluid restricted for another medical condition). Liquids that contain caffeine, such as coffee and soft drinks, seem to have a dehydrating effect and may need to be avoided until your bowel habits return to normal. Some people may need to avoid milk, as dairy products may be constipating for them.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Move your bowels when you feel the urge.

What Should I Do If I Am Constipated?

If you are constipated, try the following:

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day (unless fluid restricted).
  • Try warm liquids, especially in the morning.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your diet.
  • Eat prunes and/or bran cereal.
  • If needed, use a very mild stool softener or laxative (such as Peri-Colace or Milk of Magnesia). Do not use laxatives for more than two weeks without calling your doctor, as laxative overuse can aggravate your symptoms.

Warning About Constipation

Call your doctor if:

  • Constipation is a new problem for you
  • You have blood in your stool
  • You are losing weight even though you are not dieting
  • You have severe pain with bowel movements
  • Your constipation has lasted more than two weeks
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Andrew Seibert, MD on September 24, 2012
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