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Lately you've been feeling a little -- to put it delicately -- backed up. You're not "going" as often as you should, and you feel bloated and uncomfortable.

Don't be embarrassed. A lot of Americans -- more than 4 million by some estimates -- deal with constipation on a regular basis. Women are the most frequent constipation sufferers. This may have to do with the slower movement of food through a woman's intestines, as well as with the effects of female hormones on the GI tract.

So what do you do when you just can't go? Here are a few effective constipation treatments.

Constipation Explained

If you're constipated, it's often because there isn't enough water in your stool, a problem that occurs when too much fluid gets absorbed in your intestines. 

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, part of the National Institutes of Health, constipation is a condition in which you have fewer than three bowel movements in a week, and your stools are hard, dry, and small, making them painful and difficult to pass. Some women naturally have a bowel movement a few times a day, while others go just a few times a week. You don't need constipation treatments unless you're going to the bathroom a lot less often than usual.

 

Constipation Treatments -- Starting With Good Habits

One way to keep things moving is by getting enough fiber in your diet, which makes stool bulkier and softer so it's easier to pass. Gradually increase the amount of fiber in your diet until you're getting at least 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily.

Good fiber sources include:

  • Bran and other whole grains found in cereals, breads, and brown rice
  • Vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, carrots, and asparagus
  • Fresh fruits, or dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, and prunes
  • Beans

While you're having an issue with constipation, limit foods that are high in fat and low in fiber, like cheese and other dairy products, processed foods, and meat. They can make constipation worse.

And on the subject of diet, water is important for preventing constipation, too. Try to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.

Also, exercise regularly. Moving your body will keep your bowels moving, too.

What About Laxatives?

A box of laxatives shouldn't be the first place you turn to relieve constipation. Reserve laxatives for constipation that doesn't improve after you've added fiber and water to your diet.

See your doctor for long-term constipation, because a medicine you're taking or a medical condition could be the cause. In that case, stopping the medicine or treating the problem should relieve your constipation.

If your doctor recommends laxatives, ask what type is best for you, and for how long you should take them. Laxatives are best taken short-term only, because you don't want to start relying on them to go to the bathroom. Also ask how to ease off laxatives when you no longer need them. Stopping them too abruptly can affect your colon's ability to contract.

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