Gut Health

Constipation Symptoms and How to Relieve Constipation

Constipation Symptoms and How to Relieve Constipation

Constipation is a common digestive issue that many people experience. It can range from mild cases lasting only a few hours or days, to more serious conditions lasting several weeks or even longer. What exactly is constipation? What causes it? How can you treat it? We cover everything you need to know about constipation in this article.


What Is Constipation?


Image of constipated colon


Constipation is defined as having hard, dry bowel movements or passing stool fewer than three times a week. Being constipated means your bowel movements are tough or happen less often than normal. Almost everyone goes through it at some point. It is one of the most common digestive problems in the United States, affecting approximately 16 out of every 100 adults. This figure is twice as much for adults over the age of 60.



What Is Chronic Constipation?


The definition of chronic constipation varies among different people. For some people, chronic constipation means infrequent bowel movements for weeks at a time. To others, chronic constipation means straining or having difficulty passing stools. For instance, many describe chronic constipation as feeling like you need to have a bowel movement, but no matter how long you sit, it just won't happen. With chronic constipation, you may have hard or formed stools, small stools, or a combination of infrequent hard, formed or small stools. Generally, the definition of chronic constipation is a stool frequency of less than three per week that lasts several months.


What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?


Everyone has different bowel movements and different bowel habits that are unique to them. Some people go a few times a day, while others only go a few times a week. However, you may be constipated if you experience any of the following constipation symptoms:


  • fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • straining or pain during bowel movements
  • passing lumpy, hard or dry stools
  • a feeling of fullness, even after having a bowel movement


It is recommended to seek medical advice if symptoms don’t go away, or if you notice any of the following symptoms associated with your constipation:


  • bleeding from the rectum
  • blood in your stool
  • persistent abdominal pain
  • pain in the lower back
  • a feeling that gas is trapped
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • unexplained weight loss
  • a sudden change in bowel movements


A healthcare professional may carry out tests to rule out a more serious digestive condition, such as Chron’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


What Causes Constipation?


Constipation can have a variety of underlying causes. To better understand constipation, let’s first review the job of the colon.


The colon is the longest part of the large intestine. Your colon’s primary job is to absorb water from residual food as it passes through your digestive system. The remaining food material then becomes waste (stool). The muscles of the colon propel this waste out through the rectum to be eliminated. If stool remains in the colon too long, it can become hard and difficult to pass.


Poor diet is one of the most frequent causes of constipation. Dietary fiber and adequate water intake are necessary to help keep stools soft. Fiber comes in two forms—soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber can dissolve in water and creates a soft, gel-like material as it passes through the digestive system. Insoluble fiber retains most of its structure as it goes through the digestive system. Both forms of fiber join with stool, increasing its weight and size while also softening it. This makes it easier to pass through the rectum. Food that are rich in fiber are typically plant-based foods.


Stress, travel, changes in routine, and conditions that slow muscle contractions of the colon or delay your urge to go may also cause constipation.


Some of the most common causes of constipation include:


  • eating a low fiber diet, particularly diets high in meat, milk, or cheese
  • dehydration
  • lack of physical movement and low exercise levels
  • holding bowel movements or delaying the impulse to have a bowel movement
  • stress
  • travel or other changes in routine
  • certain medications, including certain antacids, pain medications, and diuretics
  • pregnancy
  • older age (constipation tends to affect people more after age 60)


Some underlying health issues can also cause constipation. Problems with the colon or rectum, including intestinal obstruction, digestive diseases like IBS, or diverticulosis may cause constipation. Hormonal problems, including an underactive thyroid gland may also cause constipation. Overuse or misuse of laxatives, as well as certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, or Parkinson’s disease can also bring on constipation.


Constipation and Parasites


Sometimes constipation seems unexplained. You may have constipation even when eating a high-fiber diet, drinking a lot of water, exercising regularly, and following other health habits that prevent constipation. In some cases, constipation can be caused by intestinal parasites.


Parasites are a common health issue that many people suffer from. They are so common in fact, that it is estimated that 3.1 billion people worldwide have at least one type of parasite in their body. They often go undiagnosed, and do not always show symptoms.


The signs of a parasite are often caused by the toxins that it releases into the human bloodstream. Some of the most common symptoms include: unexplained constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea or other symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.


Gut health and constipation are often connected. Parasites can wreak havoc on your gut, and so parasites and constipation often go hand-in-hand for those suffering a parasitic infection. If all of the other causes don’t seem to add up, and the constipation seems unexplained, consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of a parasitic infection.


How Do You Treat Constipation?


Treating constipation will be different for each person depending on how severe their constipation is. However, there are some general guidelines that can make a world of difference. Changing your diet to include more fiber, and less foods that lack fiber or contribute to constipation, as well as increasing water intake and increasing your physical activity level are the easiest and fastest ways to treat and prevent constipation.


You can also try any of the following constipation remedies as well:


  • Add fiber-rich foods to your diet, such as raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, prunes, or bran cereal. These are good foods for constipation as they help to stimulate bowel movements. The recommended daily intake of fiber is between 20 and 35 grams.
  • Cut down on low fiber foods, such as meat, milk, cheese, and processed foods.
  • Every day, drink at least 2 quarts of unsweetened fluids, like water, to hydrate the body.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which cause dehydration.
  • Aim for about 30 minutes of exercise per day, at least five times per week. Try walking, swimming, biking, yoga, or any exercise that involves a lot of movement and helps to increase your circulation.
  • Don’t hold it in or delay if you feel the urge to have a bowel movement. The longer you wait, the harder your stool can become.
  • Try sitting down on the toilet at the same time each morning. Even if you do not have a bowel movement, this may train your body to start going at this time each day. The body works well on routine, so establishing a routine time for bowel movements may help increase the urge to go and may relieve constipation.
  • Raise your knees by putting your feet on a footstool when having a bowel movement.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time when using the bathroom and try to relax your muscles.
  • If needed, consider using a laxative, but do so sparingly. Herbal laxatives or enemas may help for a short period of time to help soften your stools, but it is never recommended to use laxatives for more than 2 weeks without talking with a healthcare professional. Your body can develop a dependence on them, which would be counterproductive to helping alleviate your constipation.
  • If you take medications of any kind, consult with your healthcare professional and ask if any of your medications might be causing you constipation.


How Do You Prevent Constipation?


A healthy diet and lifestyle can help to prevent constipation in the first place. With many health issues, prevention is often much easier than treatment. Tips for preventing constipation are similar to those for relieving it. Some helpful tips to keep in mind for preventing constipation are:


  • Drink plenty of water each day.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can lead to dehydration.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Eat high fiber foods or consider taking a natural fiber supplement like psyllium husks.
  • Include prunes or bran cereal in your diet to stimulate bowel movements.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Consider adding probiotics (link product) to your diet to improve overall intestinal health.
  • Train your muscles to have a bowel movement at the same time each day.

Some studies have shown that adding probiotics can be helpful for people with chronic constipation. If you add fiber supplements, remember to drink plenty of fluids. Fluids help fiber work more efficiently.



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Bottom Line


Constipation is a common problem that affects many people, especially as they get older. Most cases of constipation are mild and easily treated with changes in diet and exercise. Some of the biggest causes of constipation are low-fiber diets, dehydration, and lack of exercise. Therefore, many cases of constipation can be remedied by increasing fiber intake, drinking more water, and exercising more regularly. If you are experiencing chronic constipation or constipation along with other bowel changes, it’s important that you talk with a healthcare professional.






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