Constipation is a common problem that affects one in four adults. It is defined as a change in bowel habits that may involve infrequent, incomplete or difficult evacuation of stool.
It should be noted that the frequency of "normal" bowel movements varies from three times a day to three times a week, and that it also varies from person to person. Furthermore, the body does not require daily evacuation.
Diagnosis and symptoms
A diagnosis of constipation is usually based on symptoms (abdominal discomfort, pain when passing stool and hard stool) and a physical examination. Further testing may be ordered if there are signs suggestive of a more serious problem, such as:
- blood in the stool;
- unexplained weight loss;
- persistent abdominal pain;
- family history of colon cancer;
Constipation can be the symptom of a disease or condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes or hemorrhoids. Several medications are also known to cause constipation and your pharmacist can check the medications you are taking and advise you. A diet that is low in fiber and fluid intake, as well as a sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise) can also contribute to constipation. Lastly, there may not be any specific reason to explain why you are constipated.
Prevention and treatment
It is possible to prevent and treat constipation by adopting certain lifestyle and dietary habits.
Developing a routine for evacuation may help prevent and treat constipation. Bowels tend to be more active after meals and it is often a time when the stools pass more easily. Try to have a bowel movement at the same time every day. The use of a footstool to elevate the thighs puts the pelvis in the most optimal position for defecating. Not holding it in and not ignoring the feeling that you need to open your bowels is also important.
A diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help prevent and treat constipation as they increase one's fibre intake. Being well hydrated and active are additional measures that can help promote regularity. To avoid bloating, try increasing your fibre and fluid intake gradually.
If these measures are still not sufficient, you may need to try using a laxative. There are several forms of laxatives available at the pharmacy. Do not hesitate to ask your pharmacist for advice. They are there to guide you and to help you choose the product that is right for you.