Chronic Constipation: Facts vs. Myths
Learn how to relieve chronic constipation.
Chronic Constipation: What's Normal? What's Not? continued...
Chronic Constipation Myth: Chronic constipation does not affect that
The Truth:Chronic constipation is a serious issue, affecting 15% to
20% of the U.S. population.
Chronic Constipation Myth
: If you eat right, exercise, and drink plenty of
fluids, you should never suffer from chronic constipation.
Sometimes psychological issues trigger chronic
constipation. For instance, childhood sexual or physical abuse -- or the loss
of a parent through divorce, separation or death -- may contribute to adult
chronic constipation. Constipation often coexists with depression. Chronic constipation
can also be caused by an underlying medical condition such as low thyroid hormone levels.
Chronic Constipation: What Causes It?
After eating, food moves through your digestive tract. The intestines take
water and nutrients from the food. Normally, the process continues until a
stool is formed. Squeezing contractions in the intestine then pass the stool
out of the body.
Because constipation is often linked with hard stools, one theory is that
too much water is absorbed from the stool, leaving it dry and hard. Another
theory is that abnormal hormonal responses to the ingested water may trigger
chronic constipation. More research is necessary to better understand how
constipation happens and to unravel the mysterious link between the gut,
hormones, and the brain.
6 Keys to Relieving Chronic Constipation
Relieving chronic constipation takes a multifaceted, lifestyle approach:
Go to the bathroom at the same time each morning. Make this your morning
"habit," as colonic motor activity is highest at this time.
Listen to Your Body
Don't ignore the urge to go. Peristalsis of the bowel -- the movements that
trigger a bowel movement -- come and go. If you ignore this urge, you may lose
the opportunity. The longer stool stays in the bowel, the harder it gets as
more water is reabsorbed, and the more difficult it is to expel. The urge to
defecate also increases after mealtime, so take advantage of your body's
Because stress can interfere with relaxation of the whole body, including the
bowels, it's important to use some type of relaxation technique daily. Satish
Rao, MD, PhD, FRCP, professor of medicine and director of neurogastroenterology
and GI motility at the University of Iowa, finds that many patients cannot push
properly because they are too rushed and stressed. "They have too little
time to take care of their bodies," says Rao.
Drink plenty of liquids. It's recommended that you drink at least eight
glasses of liquid (preferably water) each day. Drink more on hot days and when
you are exercising.
Bulk Up Your Diet
Dietary fiber and bulk fiber laxatives such as psyllium or methylcelluose --
taken with plenty of fluids -- work well for relieving chronic
constipation. Harris H. McIlwain, a Tampa-based rheumatologist and author of
the new book A Diet for a Pain-Free Life, believes that wheat bran is
the most effective fiber in relieving chronic constipation. "Wheat bran
adds bulk to the stool and increases the rate of movement of the stool through
the bowel," says McIlwain.
Talk to Your Doctor About Medications
Medications and laxatives can help relieve constipation, but they must be
taken carefully and for short periods of time. Consult with your doctor before
taking any medication.