Digestive Health: Suggestions for Relieving Constipation
What is Constipation?
Constipation is a condition where you have painful or difficult bowel movements. The time between these movements is not relevant, as it can be different for all people. The stool you are trying to pass may be small, hard and dry. You may feel bloated and it may hurt when passing the stool. This can occur when your colon absorbs too much fluid as the stool is passing through or if the stool is passing through too slowly.
What can cause it?
There are many reasons why. Below is a list of common reasons.
- Not drinking enough fluids.
- A diet low in fiber.
- Eating in a hurry or not on a regular basis.
- Not being physically active.
- Being pregnant.
- Pain pills or other medications.
- Not using the bathroom when you feel the urge.
- Abuse of laxatives.
- Disease or problems with the colon or rectum.
- Stroke or paralysis.
Do you drink plenty of fluids?
Drink 8 to 10 glasses of fluids a day (water, juice, tea, etc.). Warm liquids often help stimulate bowel activity.
Do you eat foods high in fiber?
- What is Fiber?
Fibers are substances found in the walls of plants that are not completely digested by the body. There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion. This slows digestion. Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol, which can help prevent heart disease.
Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. It appears to speed the passage of foods through the stomach and intestines and adds bulk to the stool. Both are good to prevent and relieve constipation.
• How Much Fiber Do I Need?
o Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber each day while men need at 30-35 grams per day
• How Does Fiber Help Relieve Constipation?
o Insoluble fiber will absorb water while in the intestine. This will help soften and increase the size of your stool. This will also allow faster movement through the intestine and relieve your constipation. Fiber and water work together.
• Guidelines for Increasing Fiber Intake
o Each day, include in your diet at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and two servings of whole grain breads of cereals or dried beans, peas or lentils.
o Slowly increase your dietary fiber to avoid bloating or flatulence (gas).
• How can high fiber foods be added to my diet?
o Include fruits, vegetables and high fiber grains, like whole grain breads, cereals, popcorn, and bran. Cooking fruits, vegetables, grains or dry beans does not decrease fiber, but peeling or juicing fruits or vegetables may alter the fiber.
o Add a small amount of 100% bran cereal, ground flax seed or wheat germ (1 to 3 tablespoons a day) into cooked cereal, casseroles, cookie dough, pancake batter, and other baked goods.
o Raw vegetables or fruits may be grated into salads or gelatin.
o Wheat germ or bran can be used as a topping on ice cream, yogurt, pudding or applesauce.
o Add nuts and dried fruits to baked goods or cereals.
o Prunes and prune juice may be used for their laxative effect.
o Read nutrition labels to find out how much fiber per serving is in the foods you eat. Choose foods with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving or more, when possible.
Do you eat in a hurry and not at regular times?
If you do, don’t! Space your meals throughout the day. Allow yourself enough time to eat. You’ll be more likely to eat the amount of fiber and liquids that you need.
Are you getting enough exercise?
Exercising each day or at least every other day may help stimulate bowel activity. Check with your doctor or nurse about what exercise is best for you.
Do you always allow enough time to have a bowel movement?
Allowing enough time is important. Your bowels will be more active after eating a meal. You may find that this is a time when you might feel the need to use the bathroom. This is especially true after the first meal of the day. Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. If you continue to ignore the urge, it may not return for quite some time. This and a diet too low in fiber are the main reasons why people become constipated.
Important: Check with your doctor if constipation goes on or you notice:
• Very thin, pencil-like stools
• Abdominal pain and swelling
• Weight loss; lack of energy or appetite
• Rectal bleeding
**Call your doctor before using any laxative or enemas.
High Fiber Foods
- whole grain breads, buns, rolls or crackers (dark rye, pumpernickel, oatmeal, whole wheat)
- nut breads
- bran muffins
- breads or cereals with seeds
- whole wheat flour pancakes and cookies
- bran cereals (100% bran, 40% bran flakes)
- shredded wheat
- oat bran (hot or cold)
- cereals with nuts, raisins, seeds
Cereal products and flours
- wheat germ
- whole wheat
- wheat bran
- high fiber granola bars (Fiber One®, Kashi®)
- wild rice
- brown rice
- fresh fruits, especially those with edible skins (apples, pears) or seeds (berries)
- dried fruits
- raw or cooked vegetables
- peanut butter
- dried beans or peas in the form of bean soup, baked beans, pea soup, kidney beans, lentils
What is the most important thing you learned from this handout?
What changes will you make in your diet/lifestyle, based on what you learned today?
If you have questions, please call UW Health Nutrition at one of these locations. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition
UW Digestive Health Center
UW Health West Clinic
UW Health East Clinic
UW Medical Foundation Nutrition
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 07/15/2013
Copyright © 07/15/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#242
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