Constipation: Causes, Diagnosis, and Natural Treatments

Constipation can be temporary or chronic, but it’s always uncomfortable. Occasionally it can be linked to serious health conditions, but finding the cause early can lead to effective treatment. Learn how to prevent complications from chronic constipation.

9 minute read

Last Updated June 26, 2020

Constipation Relief - Digestion - 1MD

Your colon is responsible for absorbing water from any residual food as it passes through to be excreted. In doing so, waste is created, and the colon muscles propel everything along to the rectum for expulsion. If the stool or waste remains in the colon for too long, it becomes hard and difficult to move along.

This is constipation, and it is a fairly common digestive issue. Most cases can be cleared up with small diet changes, but chronic constipation can also exist. The causes can be dietary based, but constipation can also be linked to several serious conditions too.

What Causes Constipation?

Poor diet is the most frequent cause of constipation. Adequate water intake, as well as high fiber content in your diet, is essential for soft and easy to move stools. 

When it comes to fiber, it is important to remember that both soluble and insoluble versions are important. 

♦ Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance that joins with stools that make them easy to pass.

♦ Insoluble fiber retains its structure as it is digested, and it joins the stool to increase its weight and size.

Apart from fiber and water, the additional common causes that will make you constipated include:

♦ Stress which slows muscle contractions and bowel movement
♦ Lack of exercise
♦ Pregnancy
♦ Travel or changes in your routine
♦ Certain medications like antacids and pain medications

There are also several underlying medical problems that could be causing your constipation. If constipation lasts for a significant period of time, one of these health issues could be the problem, and you need to see your doctor.

♦ Certain diseases such as stroke, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease
♦ Hormonal problems
♦ Underactive thyroid gland
♦ Misuse or overuse of laxatives
♦ Colon issues such as IBS, diverticulitis, and intestinal obstruction.

Constipation Symptoms

Every person will have their definition as to what constitutes a “normal” bowel movement. Some go three times a day, while others go three times a week. What is important to note is that when your regularity changes, constipation may be the issue. 

In general, constipation symptoms include:

♦ Passing hard and dry stools
♦ Having bowel movements fewer than three times per week
♦ Straining during bowel movements
♦ Experiencing rectal blockage
♦ A feeling of fullness even after having a bowel movement

Diagnosis of Constipation

Your doctor will need to know your symptoms and medical history as well as any underlying conditions. A physical examination will also need to be done, which will include a rectal exam and blood tests to check your stools and blood count. There are specific tests the doctor will look for to identify the causes of your constipation.

1. A marker study is done to evaluate how food is moving through your colon. A pill that contains markers is swallowed, and then x-rays are taken over a few days to get a visual representation of food movement.

2. An anorectal manometry involves inserting a thin tube with a balloon tip into your anus. Once inside, the balloon is inflated and then pulled out. This allows the doctor to measure the strength of your sphincter muscles. Weak contractions can be a cause of constipation.

3. A colonoscopy is slightly more invasive, and you will be sedated for the procedure. A tube with a camera is inserted to take a closer look at your colon and its function.

Natural Treatments for Constipation

Promoting digestive health and protecting the gut from damage is the best way to naturally prevent constipation. A healthy digestive tract will stimulate regular bowel movements and support optimal nutrient absorption.

There are several key ingredients to look for that promote digestive health and prevent constipation.

Probiotics: Efficient digestion depends on a balanced and healthy gut. Supplying your gut with beneficial probiotics such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii, ensure the gut stays healthy. They prevent inflammation and promote the digestion of food to ensure the process keeps moving. To get the best from probiotics, you also need PreforPro, which is a combination of prebiotics and enzymes to support the work of probiotics.

Bromelain: This digestive enzyme is found in pineapple and is beneficial to digestive health. Constipation is a common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome, and bromelain works to prevent this. Bromelain also reduces inflammation, which can cause digestive issues and damage to the gut wall.

Reishi mushroom: This fungus serves as a tonic for your liver, which produces the bile needed for digestion. Poor liver function impedes digestion by slowing the breakdown of foods. As a result, constipation and bloating can occur. Reishi mushrooms naturally cleanse the liver to ensure it is functioning at optimal levels.

Treating Constipation at Home

There are medications your doctor can prescribe to help correct constipation, but diet and exercise changes are typically best. If the condition is not caused by some medical conditions that will require specific treatment, constipation relief can be found naturally and at home.

♦ Drink 1.5 to 2 quarts of water or unsweetened and decaffeinated fluids every day.

♦ Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeine, which causes dehydration.

♦ Eat more fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans.

♦ Try to get about 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. A goal of thirty minutes a day, five times a week is the best place to start. The best exercises include walking, cycling, and swimming.

♦ Add fiber supplements if needed, but remember to drink plenty of water because fluids help the fiber to work more efficiently.

♦ Magnesium citrate supplements may help, as they work as a natural laxative. Small or moderate doses can relieve constipation. Avoid larger doses, and always consult your doctor before taking any supplements.

♦ When you feel the urge to have a bowel movement do not delay. When you hold your bowel movements, you risk your stools getting harder and more difficult to pass.

♦ Add probiotics to your diet, as they have been shown to help relieve chronic constipation. You can easily add probiotics through supplements or eating foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi. You also want to add more prebiotic foods to your diet, which can include foods such as leafy greens, bananas, and berries. These fibers help nourish your natural gut flora. A healthy gut promotes better digestion and healthier bowel movements. 

♦ Try a low-FODMAP diet. These carbohydrates are difficult to digest and can cause digestive discomfort and irritable bowel syndrome in many people. By cutting these from your diet or limiting consumption, you can improve bowel movements naturally.

♦ High-FODMAP foods include apples, avocado, wheat, onion, and garlic.
Be careful with laxatives and enemas. Your doctor may prescribe them for temporary relief, but you should never use them for longer than two weeks. Your body may become dependent on them, which can interfere with your colon’s natural function.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

The majority of constipation cases are mild and can be resolved within a few days. The best constipation remedies include a change in diet, exercise routine, and lifestyle. These commonly correct the situation and promote healthier digestion and regular bowel movements.

If your constipation is chronic, then you need to see your doctor, especially if you notice any bowel changes, discomfort, or symptoms. Any underlying medical conditions need to be treated first, and then bowel movements can return to normal. With a prompt diagnosis, constipation and the underlying cause can be easily treated. 

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