Constipation is a frequent problem that is usually minor and temporary. It affects people of all ages, but is more common among children and seniors. In addition, women are three times more likely than men to experience constipation.
Symptoms of constipation
If you have fewer than three bowel movements a week, if your stool is hard and dry and if evacuation is painful or sometimes incomplete, then you probably suffer from constipation.
However, a person can have three bowel movements a week, while another may have three a day, and in each case this frequency can be considered normal. Level of effort, while defecating and regularity of bowel movements, are the real indicators of constipation.
Constipation also leads to other symptoms, such as:
- Loss of appetite.
But, if you have a fever, experience vomiting or intense abdominal pain due to the constipation, you should talk to your doctor.
Mechanism of constipation
When food passes through the digestive tract, our body takes the nutrients it needs. Digested food, in the form of waste, then moves through the intestines as a result of involuntary muscle contractions.
At times, these contractions slow down and the movement of waste is too slow. The longer the waste (fecal matter) remains in the colon
(large intestine), the more the body will absorb the liquid present in the fecal matter, causing stool to become dry and painful to pass.
Causes of constipation
Certain factors can undermine the functioning of the digestive system:
- Insufficient intake of fluids;
- A diet low in fibre;
- Lack of exercise
- Imbalance of the intestinal flora; Intake of constipating foods (e.g. cheese, white rice);
- Dietary changes;
- A disease;
- Certain medications;
- Frequently resisting the strong urge to defecate.
Constipation can be effectively prevented and managed through a healthy lifestyle.
Here are a few simple changes you can make:
- Drink plenty of fluids (the equivalent of 8 glasses of water per day);
- Exercise (e.g. walk for 30 minutes every day);
- Increase your fibre intake (fruit, vegetable, grain products, etc.);
- Eat figs or prunes;
- Try to go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge;
- Avoid the prolonged used of laxatives, unless under the supervision of a health professional.
Available without a prescription and in a variety of formats, laxatives may appear to be an easy solution. However, they can have various short- and long-term effects on the digestive tract. Talk to a health professional to find out which treatment is best for you.
With the exception of products that increase the bulk of stool (e.g. psyllium-based products), laxatives, which stimulate the intestines, can, overtime, make the situation worse by irritating your digestive tract or making it sluggish or dependent on these products. That is why it is best to use laxatives occasionally and with moderation, unless instructed by a health professional.
If you have questions about laxatives and how to use them, talk to your pharmacist. He’s there to help!