Constipation (con-stuh-PAY-shun) means that a person has three bowel movements or fewer in a week. The stool is hard and dry. Sometimes it is painful to pass. You may feel "draggy" and full.
Some people think they should have a bowel movement every day. That is not really true. There is no "right" number of bowel movements. Each person's body finds its own normal number of bowel movements. It depends on the food you eat, how much you exercise, and other things.
At one time or another almost everyone gets constipated. In most cases, it lasts for a short time and is not serious. When you understand what causes constipation, you can take steps to prevent it.
What Can I Do? Changing what you eat and drink and how much you exercise will help relieve and prevent constipation Here are some steps you can take.
1. Eat more fiber. Fiber helps form soft, bulky stool. It is found in many vegetables, fruits, and grains. Be sure to add fiber a little at a time, so your body gets used to it slowly. Limit foods that have little or no fiber such as ice cream, cheese, meat, snacks like chips and pizza, and processed foods such as instant mashed potatoes or already-prepared frozen dinners. The following chart shows you some high-fiber foods.
High-Fiber Foods: Fruit Vegetables Breads, Cereals, and Beans Apples Acorn squash Black-eyed peas Peaches Broccoli, raw Kidney beans, Raspberries, Brussels sprouts, Lima beans Tangerines Cabbage Whole-grain cereal, cold Carrots, raw (All-Bran, Total, Bran Cauliflower, raw Flakes) Spinach Whole-grain cereal, hot Zucchini (oatmeal, Wheatena) Whole-wheat or 7-grain bread. (note: Metamucil is actually psyllium fiber from grain. It is a good way to get more fiber into your diet. One rounded teaspoon provides 12g of fiber. That's as much as two one-half cup servings of beans! Beano is good way to eat all the high fiber foods your body needs without bothering anyone around you).
2. Drink plenty of water and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soup. Liquid helps keep the stool soft and easy to pass, so it's important to drink enough fluids. Try not to drink liquids with caffeine or alcohol in them. Caffeine and alcohol tend to dry out your system.
3. Get enough exercise. Doctors are not sure why, but regular exercise helps your system stay active and healthy. You don't need to become a great athlete. A 20- to 30-minute walk every day will do the trick.
4. Allow yourself enough time to have a bowel movement. Sometimes we feel so hurried that we don't pay attention to our bodies' needs. Make sure you don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
5. Use laxatives only if a doctor says you should. Laxatives (LAHK-sa-tivz) are medicines that will make you pass a stool. Most people who are mildly constipated do not need laxatives. However, if you are doing all the right things and you are still constipated, your doctor may recommend laxatives for a limited time.
Your doctor will tell you if you need a laxative and what type is best. Laxatives come in many forms: liquid, chewing gum, pills, and powder that you mix with water, for example.
6. Check with your doctor about medicines you may be taking. Some medicines may cause constipation. They include calcium pills, pain pills with codeine in them, some antacids, iron pills, diuretics (water pills), and medicines for depression. If you take medicine for another problem, be sure to ask your doctor about it.
Intestinal Disease Foundation, 1323 Forbes Avenue, Suite 200, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, (412) 261-5888
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