Most people, at some point, will have issues in the bathroom. But there are some basic things to know for those instances when you can’t “go.” Drake Everson, DO, PPG – Family Medicine, shares the most common reasons for constipation and how you can get things moving again.
What is considered “normal” bowel activity and what is considered constipation?
Constipation is when a patient is having to strain, having hard stools, having the sensation of an incomplete bowel movement, a sensation of blockage, needing to use maneuvers to facilitate a bowel movement, or having fewer than three bowel movements per week. We usually talk to the patient to see if at least two of those criteria are met to consider someone constipated. Normal bowel activity is the absence of those symptoms.
What are some of the most common causes of constipation?
Some of the most common causes of constipation include:
- medications (opioids are a big one)
- being dehydrated
- a low fiber diet or a diet high in dairy products
- not staying active
- certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and thyroid conditions
What are some at-home treatment options? ?
I usually have patients make sure they are drinking plenty of water and initiate a fiber supplement if their diet is deficient in fiber. Some over-the-counter medications that are helpful include Colace® and MiraLAX®. Patients often find success with prune juice as well.
What are the greatest tips for prevention?
Great ways to prevent constipation include drinking plenty of water, staying physically active, and consuming a diet that is rich in fiber. Trying to develop a routine bowel movement schedule can also help in preventing constipation.
If someone is experiencing chronic constipation due to a disease or condition, doing these lifestyle and preventative measures will help control the symptoms. If you are on chronic opioids, there are also certain medications available which can be helpful. You should speak with your primary care provider about your concerns to develop a treatment plan.
When should someone be concerned and seek medical intervention?
Patients should seek medical attention if they develop severe, intense abdominal pain, have associated nausea or vomiting, have significant bloating, or see blood in their stool.
While it can be an embarrassing discussion, patients should always feel comfortable expressing their concerns about bowel movements to their medical provider. They can help identify what might be causing the issue and potential treatments to relieve discomfort.