Constipation is one of the most common digestive disorders people suffer from across the world. This health challenge is prevalent in the US, with statistics showing that over 4 million Americans experience frequent constipation. The disease is responsible for millions of annual clinic visits in the country and more than 700,000 emergency department trips, according to Dr Haider J. Warraich, an Associate Director, Heart Failure Program, VA Boston Healthcare System.
In as much as constipation is rampant in the USA, it’s not limited to the country. It is a global health challenge. Changes in the lifestyle are the major causes of constipation among Americans; their diets contain less fluid and fibre, necessary for bowel movements.
What is constipation?
Medical News Today, a ULK web-based outlet for medical information and news describes constipation as a condition when a person has difficulty emptying the large bowel. Health experts have discovered that constipation occurs either when stools pass through the colon at a lower speed or as a result of a blockage in the large intestine. When you have less than three bowel movements in a week, the probability that you are constipated is very high.
Symptoms of constipation
Constipation is characterized by the following signs and symptoms: having less than three bowel movements a week, stomach ache or cramps, nausea, loss of appetite, passing hard and dry stool, painful or difficulty to pass stools, feeling bloated, and passing less stool than usual.
Causes of constipation
Many things cause constipation. They include:
- Lack of fibre in the diet
Constipation occurs more often amongst people with a low intake of dietary fibre. The main function of fibre is to enhance regular bowel movements. To minimize having constipation, take food rich in fibre such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grain, to avoid constipation. However, reduce the intake of high-fat foods, highly processed foods, and fast foods like chips.
- Lack of exercise
According to WebMD, an American news portal on human health, physical exercise can control constipation by limiting the time it takes food to move through the large intestine. Furthermore, aerobic exercise increases your breathing and heart rate, which stimulates the natural contraction of intestinal muscles. When an intestinal muscle contracts, stools move out faster.
Certain medications are likely to increase the risk of constipation. For example, anti-depressants, antacids containing calcium or aluminium, allergy medications such as antihistamines, strong painkillers like the narcotics containing codeine, iron pills, and certain blood pressure medicines, among others.
Even though constipation is common in all age groups, older people, especially those above 65 years of age suffer most from it. Older people are less active, have a low metabolism rate, and less muscle strength along their digestive tracts.
Pregnant women are more likely to experience constipation. To avoid this, drinking more fluids, eating more dietary and daily exercise can help.
- Lack of water in the body
Water assists the food to move through your intestines smoothly. Research shows that if your body does not have enough water, the large intestines absorb fluid from your food; that makes you have hard stools.
Anxiety can increase both your heart rate and blood pressure and make you sweat. Since anxiety affects the muscles that control the frequency at which one goes to the toilet, it can lead to constipation.
- Health challenges
Brain and spine related sicknesses such as brain injuries, spinal cord damage or Parkinson’s disease can decrease stools movement through the intestines. Other health issues are diabetes and thyroid gland problems.
There are many treatment options for constipation, including natural remedies; it is advisable to try these natural ways before seeking other options. These natural treatments are cheap and can take place in the comfort of your home.
- Drink more water
You need to drink more water daily to prevent and treat constipation. Water helps food to move through your intestines and prevent stools from becoming hard. Some studies prefer sparkling water to carbonated drinks. The argument is that carbonated drinks can cause some harmful health effects. Drink at least 9 cups of water daily for women and 13 for men to stay hydrated.
- Exercise regularly
Experts recommend daily physical activity, such as going for a walk or run or to the gym. Exercise stimulates the muscles in your intestines and colon. Instead of sleeping or sitting most of the time, stroll around and do some exercises to reduce constipation.
- Eat probiotic foods
Bananas, onions, chickpeas, garlic, and many other foods are some examples of probiotic foods. They improve digestive health by feeding the bacteria in the gut, which promotes their balance. Some also moisten the stool and speed up bowel movements.
- Drink caffeinated coffee
Studies show that caffeinated coffee can stimulate the muscles in the digestive system, which increase the rate at which you empty your large bowel. Moreover, it also has a small number of soluble fibres that enhance the balance of bacteria in the gut hence preventing constipation.
- Take a laxative stimulant such as Senna
Senna has a compound known as glycosides that stimulate the nerve in the gut and assist in bowel movements. It is available in both oral and rectal forms. However, according to medical advice, pregnant and breastfeeding women and those with a health condition such as inflammatory bowel disease should avoid laxative stimulant.
- Take probiotic food or supplements
Probiotics are living bacteria that naturally occur in the gut. Eating more probiotic foods could easily trigger the balance of bacteria, especially to those having chronic constipation. They also produce short-chain fatty acids that promote gut movements and increasingly frequent and consistent movement of stool.
- Eat enough dietary fibre
Dietary fibres fall into two categories: soluble and insoluble fibres. Soluble fibres absorb water to keep stools soft. They are found in barley, beans, seeds, nuts, peas, and in some fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, insoluble fibres add bulk to stools which help them pass faster and easily through the digestive system. Insoluble fibres are present in wheat bran, whole grains, and vegetables. A high intake of fibre promotes consistency of bowel movements, allowing the stools to pass quickly.
- Take Osmotic laxatives
Osmotic laxatives move fluids through the colon. They include magnesium citrate, lactulose, polyethene glycol, and magnesium hydroxide.
A whopping majority of us have experienced constipation at one point in our lives. It could have been as a result of what we had eaten or what we failed to eat. Sometimes it was caused by lack of water in our bodies, lack of regular exercise, medications, anxiety, pregnancy, health challenges or even age. It is advised that one seeks medical help if these natural remedies fail to work for you.