What is Constipation?
People refer to constipation when you have less than 3 bowel movements per week. 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 happen when your colon absorbs too much fluid as the stool is passing through or if the stool is passing through too slowly.
Many medicines can cause constipation. Some medicines can slow down the stool as it passes along the intestinal tract. This kind of constipation can last as long as you are taking your pain medicine on a regular basis. It is important that you learn to manage your bowels well. This handout gives you the basics to help you prevent or treat constipation.
What can cause constipation?
There are many reasons. 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 medicines.
- Not using the bathroom when you feel the urge.
- Abuse of laxatives.
- Disease or problems with the colon or rectum.
- Stroke or paralysis.
It is Important to 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.
What Can I Do Myself to Prevent Constipation?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to avoid constipation is to make changes in your diet and exercise routines (when possible). Make a plan to avoid constipation and stick to it as long as you are taking the medicine. Review your plan with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. Here are some things to include in your plan
- Eat foods that have helped you to relieve constipation in the past.
- Eat foods high in fiber or roughage. See examples below for foods high in fiber.
- Drink plenty of liquids (unless your doctor has instructed you not to). Eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of fluid each day will help keep your stools soft. Warm liquids often help your bowels to move. Have a hot drink about half an hour before your planned time for a bowel movement.
- Exercise as much as you are able each day or at least every other day. Increasing the amount you walk can help. Check with your doctor or nurse about what exercises are best for you.
- Plan your bowel movements for the same time each day, if possible. Set aside time for sitting on the toilet or commode, preferably after a meal, as your bowels are more active at this time. Giving yourself enough time is important. Don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. If you continue to ignore the urge, you will stop getting it
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.
Do you eat foods high in fiber?
What is Fiber?
Fibers are substances found in the walls of plants. Fiber is not completely digested by the body. There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Both are good to prevent and relieve constipation. Plant foods which contain fiber (soluble and insoluble) are whole grains, dried beans, dried peas, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables and their skins.
How Does Fiber Help Relieve Constipation?
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
- Each day, include in your diet at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and two servings of whole grain breads, cereals or dried beans, peas or lentils.
- Slowly increase your dietary fiber to avoid bloating or gas (flatulence).
What About Bulk Laxatives, Like Metamucil®?
If a change of your diet or fluid intake does not work, the safest medicines to use are bulk laxatives like Metamucil®, Citrucel®, and Fiberall®. These drugs absorb water and expand to increase bulk and moisture content of the stool. They should only be used if you are able to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. If not, you could become more constipated. If these are not helping, talk to your health care provider about the amount of fluids you are taking. These work best if they are taken every day because they don't work right away. It may be 2-3 days before any results.
What about Other Laxatives?
There are many other types of laxatives, including stool softeners. Some may be harmful if used all the time. Check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
What about Suppositories and Enemas?
Both can be used as an added step to treat constipation. It is not a good idea to rely on enemas as part of a regular plan to avoid constipation. Talk to your doctor or nurse before using either of these choices.
What Points Should I Remember?
- Put together a plan to prevent constipation and stick to it as long as you are taking the medicine.
- Aim for a bowel movement every second or third day rather than every day. Expectations of bowel movement frequency should be based on your usual bowel habits before becoming constipated.
- Call your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before taking any stool softeners, laxatives or enemas.
|Cereals and flours||Bran cereals, whole-wheat bread, rye bread and crackers, wheat germ, corn, cornmeal, wild rice, brown rice, barley, popcorn|
|Fruits||Fresh, canned, or dried fruits, especially those with skin or seeds (apples, plums, pears, peaches, tomatoes, berries, raisins and dates)|
|Vegetables||Any raw or cooked vegetable (not overcooked) such as carrots, cabbage, peas, dry beans, and lentils|
High Fiber Home Recipes
Fruit Pudding - 1-2 tablespoons one to three times a day
In a blender combine
3 oranges peeled
4 apples with skins
2 cups raisins and dates
2 cups prunes
add prune juice to consistency of sauce or pudding
Can keep in refrigerator 7-10 days, can be frozen
3 cups prunes (soaked until soft)
1 cup prune juice
Puree in blender/food processor
1 cup + 1 Tbsp. apple sauce
7 Tbsp. all bran cereal
Mix well and refrigerate
1/4 cup = 80 calories
Senna Prunes - 1-2 prunes every other night
1 ounce senna leaves, simmer in 1 quart of water
strain and discard leaves
add prunes to liquid, let simmer in extract until liquid is absorbed
Bran Muffins - 1-2 muffins daily
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 quart buttermilk
2 1/2 cups flour (1 1/2 whole wheat; 1 white)*
1 cups sugar
1/2 package (15 oz.) Raisin Bran cereal
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs slightly beaten, or 1 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup oil
*1/2 cup wheat germ may be substituted for 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
Bake in greased muffin pans at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Makes two dozen muffins.
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: 03/04/2011
Copyright © 03/03/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7110
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