How is constipation treated?
The treatment depends on what is causing your constipation. For most people, eating a healthy diet, getting enough fiber, exercising regularly, and drinking enough fluids are the keys to clearing up constipation.
How do I get more fiber?
It is suggested that men 50 years of age and younger consume at least 38 grams of fiber per day, while women 50 years of age and younger should consume at least 25 grams per day. To add fiber to your diet, choose or add fiber-rich foods to your diet. If you are adding fiber to your diet, start slowly and gradually increase the amount. This will help reduce gas and bloating. Make sure to drink plenty of water, also.
Foods rich in fiber include:
- Beans (such as navy, kidney, and pinto beans)
- Dried fruits (such as prunes, apricots, and figs)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day)
- Unprocessed wheat bran (try it as a topping on yogurt or fruit)
- Unrefined breakfast cereals
- Whole-grain bread and brown rice (choose these instead of white bread or rice)
Fiber supplements can also be used:
- Flax seed meal
- Products that contain psyllium are available in powder and other forms (examples include Metamucil and others)
Should I use laxatives?
In general, try to avoid laxatives. They aren't meant for long-term use. An exception to this is bulk-forming laxatives.
Bulk-forming laxatives work naturally to add bulk and water to your stools so that they can pass more easily through your intestines. Bulk-forming laxatives can be used every day. They include oat bran, psyllium (one brand: Metamucil), polycarbophil (one brand: FiberCon) and methylcellulose (one brand: Citrucel).
How are bulk-forming laxatives used?
You must use bulk-forming laxatives daily for them to work. Follow the directions on the label. Start slowly and drink plenty of fluids. Gradually increase how much you use every 3 to 5 days (as your body gets used to it) until your stools are softer and easier to pass.
You can help bulk-forming laxatives taste better by mixing them with fruit juice.
Do bulk-forming laxatives have side effects?
You may notice some bloating, gas or cramping at first, especially if you start taking too much or increase the amount you're using too quickly. These symptoms should go away in a few weeks or less.
Is mineral oil a good laxative?
In general, only use mineral oil when your doctor recommends it, such as if you've just had surgery and shouldn't strain to have a bowel movement. Mineral oil shouldn't be used regularly. If it is used regularly, it can cause deficiencies of vitamins A, D, E and K.
Should I try enemas?
Enemas aren't usually necessary to relieve constipation. It's better to let your body work naturally.
What if I've been using enemas or laxatives for a long time?
If you've used laxatives and enemas for a long time, your family doctor may suggest that you gradually reduce the use of them to give your body a chance to return to normal. You may have to retrain your body to go without laxatives or enemas. This means eating plenty of fiber, possibly using a bulk-forming laxative, drinking plenty of water, exercising and learning to give yourself time to have a bowel movement. Be patient. It may take many months for your bowels to get back to normal. Talk with your family doctor about any concerns you have.
What other treatments might my doctor recommend?
Depending on the cause of your constipation, the severity of your symptoms, and the effectiveness of other treatments, your doctor may also recommend:
- Prescription medicine, such as lubiprostone, to help relieve your symptoms
- Procedures to help remove stool from the intestine
- Surgery, which is rarely needed to remove damaged intestine
- Other treatments to address the cause of your constipation
What can I do if my child is constipated?
There are many things you can do to help your child:
- Diet. You can start by increasing the amount of fluid your child drinks each day. If your baby is eating cereal, you can try adding a little prune juice to it. If you have an older child, make sure she or he is drinking plenty of water. You can also give your child prune juice, bran cereal, fruits and vegetables to increase the amount of fiber in his or her diet and help your child pass a stool. Avoid giving your child candy and refined sugars.
- Bowel habit training. Teach your child to go to the bathroom when he or she first feels the urge to have a bowel movement. You can help your child establish a regular bowel habit by asking your child to sit on the toilet for at least 10 minutes at about the same time each day, preferably after a meal. Make sure your child can place his or her feet firmly on the floor while sitting on the toilet. If this is not possible, put a footstool in front of the toilet. While your child is sitting on the toilet, you might let your child read a story book or listen to the radio.
- Medicine. Many laxatives are available to treat constipation in children. The choice of laxative depends on the age of your child and how serious the constipation is. Ask your family doctor to suggest a brand name and tell you how much to use.
- Start a reward program. Begin rewarding your child for just sitting on the toilet. For example, if your child sits on the toilet at the planned time, reward your child with a favorite activity. If your child has a bowel movement, give your child praise and a reward. Avoid using food as a reward. Young children may like to be awarded with stickers or stars on a chart. Older children may like to add up points for a larger reward, such as a trip to a movie theater or the park.
- Medicine. If other treatments don’t help, ask your doctor about whether your child may benefit from using a laxative for a short time. Many laxatives are available to treat constipation in children. The choice of laxative depends on the age of your child and how serious the constipation is. Ask your family doctor to suggest a brand name and tell you how much to use.
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Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff