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Constipation Remedies

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 10, 2020

Constipation is a difficulty passing stool. Chronic constipation occurs when the problem lasts for more than a few weeks. Most people experience mild cases of constipation on occasion and treat it at home. However, chronic constipation may cause life-disrupting symptoms that require more medical attention.

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • Having three or fewer bowel movements per week
  • Hard stools
  • Straining to go to the bathroom
  • Feeling a blockage in your rectum
  • The feeling that you can't fully empty your bowels
  • Needing to press your hand on your abdomen to go to the bathroom
  • Needing to use your hands to help stool exit your rectum
  • Bloating and cramping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy

Constipation Remedies and Treatments

Lifestyle Adjustments

  • Eat more fiber. Eating more fiber makes your stool more weighty, helping it to move through your intestines faster. It helps with constipation symptoms. It also lowers "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, lowers the risk of colon cancer, and may help control blood sugar levels. High-fiber foods include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts. You can also take a fiber supplement to add more to your diet.
  • Exercise more. Exercise promotes healthy, regular digestion. Strong abdominal muscles play a role in improving your digestive process. Fitting in a bit of exercise every day may help your constipation symptoms. 
  • Drink more water. Increasing your intake of liquids may improve constipation, especially when consumed in combination with a higher-fiber diet.
  • Avoid dairy products. Several studies show a connection between the consumption of dairy products and constipation. Some people believe this may occur in people with an intolerance to dairy, while others believe it has to do with certain components found in milk. 

Take Laxatives

A laxative is a type of over-the-counter medicine that can help you with bowel movements. There are a few different options:

  • Stimulants. This type of laxative creates intestinal contractions to help you go to the bathroom.
  • Osmotics. Taking these laxatives increases the amount of intestinal fluid to make you go to the bathroom.
  • Lubricants. Mineral oil helps hard stool pass more easily through lubrication of the intestines.
  • Stool softener. These medications turn hard stool softer, making it pass more easily.

Use Enemas

An enema is a procedure that puts liquid into the rectum. It often clears out stool or other blockages. An enema with water and a bit of salt can relieve constipation. Some prepared enema solutions contain sodium phosphate, a compound that agitates the rectum, helping you to go to the bathroom. 

You should use enemas for constipation only after trying other remedies. 

Drink Coffee

Coffee can make you have to go to the bathroom. One study showed that it had a similar effect on the bowels as consuming a meal. It also showed that drinking coffee had a 60% stronger effect than drinking water alone, and a 23% stronger effect than drinking decaffeinated coffee.

Take Probiotics

Probiotics are supplements that introduce more "good" bacteria to the gut. This can help to balance the digestive system.

Studies show that taking probiotics, especially those containing the organism bifidobacterium, can increase the number of bowel movements you have per week by 1.3. However, larger studies are needed to solidify these results and figure out which methods are best to relieve constipation. 

When to See a Doctor

Constipation is usually not an emergency. If you experience it frequently, you may try home remedies for a week or two. If symptoms do not subside, go to your doctor. If you are not usually constipated, then you may want to go to the doctor sooner, depending on your level of discomfort.

You should always seek medical attention when you have the following symptoms in addition to constipation:

Your doctor may suggest:

  • Prescription medications
  • Surgery to remove blockages
  • Surgery to remove part of the colon in more severe cases
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: "Enemas."

Cleveland Clinic: "How to Know When Constipation Is an Emergency."

European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology: "Is coffee a colonic stimulant?"

Mayo Clinic: "Constipation."

Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Common causes of constipation."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Probiotics may ease constipation."

Hepato-Gastroenterology: "Water supplementation enhances the effect of high-fiber diet on stool frequency and laxative consumption in adult patients with functional constipation."

The New England Journal of Medicine: "Intolerance of Cow's Milk and Chronic Constipation in Children."

Nutrients: "Does Milk Cause Constipation? A Crossover Dietary Trial."

University of California San Francisco: "Constipation Signs and Symptoms."

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