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Water: A Fluid Way to Manage Constipation

Chronic constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal ailments in the U.S. While millions of Americans self-medicate by using over-the-counter laxatives, perhaps the simplest ways to manage chronic constipation is to drink plenty of fluids daily, eat dietary fiber, and exercise. Below are the answers to some common questions about chronic constipation, and how fluids can help or worsen the condition.

What Causes Chronic Constipation?

Many things can cause chronic constipation, including medications, a low-fiber diet, travel, irritable bowel syndrome, and pregnancy. But dehydration is one of the most common causes. After the food you eat is processed in the small intestine, it travels to the large intestine, or colon. If you do not have enough water in your body -- if you're dehydrated -- the large intestine soaks up water from your food waste. This results in hard stools that are difficult to pass.

Why Is Water Important for Digestion?

Water makes up approximately 60% of your body's weight. By lubricating the intestines and the food we eat, water can help prevent and alleviate chronic constipation by facilitating the flow of food though the intestines.

How Can I Prevent Dehydration?

Dehydration happens when the body eliminates more fluids than it absorbs. Drinking inadequate amounts of hydrating fluids during exercise, hot weather, or daily activities can cause the body to use up its stored water. To prevent dehydration, watch the amount of fluid you drink, listen to your body, and drink more liquids during exercise and hot weather.

Will Drinking Water and Other Fluids Cure Constipation?

While drinking more liquids does not cure constipation, added fluids help keep the stool soft and easy to pass.

How Much Fluid Is Enough to Ease Chronic Constipation?

Most experts say "let your body be your guide" when it comes to thirst. The Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board recommends that women consume 91 ounces of water each day from beverages and foods; men need to consume 125 ounces daily. Remember, this recommendation includes fluids in the foods you eat -- so don't overdo a good thing! Talk to your doctor about how much water is good for you. People with certain medical conditions may need to limit their fluid intake. In general, for healthy, average individuals, eight cups a day is a good guideline, but some people may need more fluid and others, less.

Besides Water, What Other Fluids Are Hydrating?

Although drinking water is the best source of hydration, fruit and vegetable juices, clear soups, and herbal teas are also good sources of fluid.

Are There Fluids I Should Avoid?

Yes. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and cola drinks. These are diuretics, which eliminate water from your body and contribute to dehydration.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Andrew Seibert, MD on September 24, 2012
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