Constipation: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments
Treatments and home remedies for constipation include Ayurvedic medicine, proper intake of water, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, figs or anjeer, castor oil, flax seed, regular exercise, and natural laxatives, if necessary. The prime causes of constipation include dehydration, an improper diet, certain medications, medical conditions, and stress. However, what is constipation?
Table of Contents
What is Constipation?
Constipation is a condition where stool movement is irregular and is characterized by hard stools, which often obstructs the movement of stools. Constipation is also categorized by some people as hardening and difficulty in passing stools. A sense of an incomplete bowel movement is also felt by many people that complain of constipation. The stiffening of stool near the rectum causes an obstruction for smooth stool passage, resulting in difficulty to defecate.
Constipation is defined by medical experts as a decreased number of bowel movements per week. Specifically, less than 3 bowel movements per week are considered as being constipated. On a general scale, any number of bowel movements between 3 to 21 bowel movements per week is considered normal. This has been observed in the majority of the population.
Symptoms of Constipation
A healthy person, usually, experiences between three bowel movements in a week to three bowel movements in a day. Although, if you’re experiencing less than three bowel movements in a week, then there are high chances you’re suffering from constipation.
Constipation rarely turns serious and is more of a bothersome condition that anything else. Some of its symptoms include:
Difficulty in passing stool
Pain during bowel movements
Chronic constipation can also lead to the development of hemorrhoids, anal fissures, fecal impaction, and rectal prolapse, which is why it should be treated as and when the symptoms appear.
An ideal frequency of bowel movements is considered to be at least one or two bowel movements per day without any difficulty, although there is no standard for the number of bowel movements. The bowel movements of one person may be different from another person because of changes in their lifestyle and other significant factors. Normally, 40-50% of people have a frequency of 1-2 bowels movements per day.
The University of Bristol had developed the Bristol Stool Scale, which categorizes human feces on a scale of 1 to 7. According to it, a scale of 1 to 3 has been categorized as chronic and severe constipation due to the appearance of the stool. 4 and 5 have been categorized as a normal condition and 6 and 7 tend to be conditions like diarrhea.
Severe or acute constipation is characterized as not more than one bowel movement per week. Under chronic constipation, bowel movements have been observed to be only once every 15 to 20 days or more. In either case, severe or chronic constipation have to be treated urgently.
Normal constipation also requires attention. Normal constipation can range between one bowel movement to three bowel movements per week. This type of constipation can be cured with remedies that are very simple and yet provide the best results.
Causes of Constipation
Some of the reasons for constipation include the following:
Lack of Hydration: Water is one of the major components of the human body. It constitutes about 70% of the body and is the best organic carrier and solvent. It is a key ingredient of the digestive system since it helps in absorbing the digested food in the small intestine and in the movement of undigested food into the large intestine or colon and from there through the rectum and anus. During this process, water helps in giving a smooth texture to the stool and helps in steady movement. A lack of appropriate amounts of water in the colon forces the stool to accumulate and turn hard, therefore making bowel movements very slow.
Drugs and Medication: Drugs and medication are often overlooked as some of the main causes of constipation. Certain types of medications can cause constipation. These medicines include antacids, anticholinergics, antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, cholestyramine, clonidine, diuretics, levodopa, narcotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, psychotropic, and sympathomimetics. These are some of the drugs that can cause constipation. (Ratnaike, R.N. (1999))
Stress: Stress is known to be one of the causes of constipation. People who suffer from stress and anxiety have lower levels of gastrocolic reflex, which in turn causes constipation. Some people tend to suppress the urge to visit the rest room due to certain conditions. As a result, the stools harden up and do not move even when considerable pressure is applied, thus leading to constipation.
Improper Diet: Diet is perhaps the most important thing to consider in cases of constipation. Diet without the regular and significant intake of dietary fiber is considered to be the root cause of constipation. Fiber is the undigested food material which helps in stool formation and its movement. Fiber helps in creating bulk out of loose stools, which allows them to easily pass through the colon. Without sufficient fiber, stools become hard and difficult to move. In some cases, people who follow improper diet patterns also face constipation. The consumption of dairy products and animal products can be attributed to an increase of constipation, mainly because these dairy and animal products lack dietary fiber.
Physical Conditions: Certain conditions, such as diabetes mellitus, hypocalcemia, hyperparathyroidism, hypokalemia, hypothyroidism, pregnancy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Hirschsprung’s disease are known to cause constipation.
Abuse of Laxatives: Contrary to popular belief, an abuse of laxatives creates a condition called lazy colon syndrome in which the peristaltic movements in the colon that push the stools out is stopped. After extended use of laxatives, the colon will lose its ability to make these movements, thereby resulting in constipation.
Dehydration: Dehydration is related to water itself, but under certain conditions, dehydration can cause constipation. Constipation during the summer season is often seen because people are dehydrated. During the summertime, the water that is present in the digestive system is diverted to control the body temperature. Water is released in the form of sweat and water vapor. This loss of water must be replenished as quickly as possible so that the digestive process can begin.
Treatments for Constipation
If certain dietary and lifestyle changes don’t improve your condition, then you need to go for a treatment. This includes the use of OTC laxatives, lactulose, and other over the counter medicines. While using the laxatives, you need to undertake some precautions, as over-use of them can worsen the condition and lead to other complications.
To treat constipation, Ayurveda suggests drinking lots and lot of water, consumption of herbal tea, increasing the consumption of organic oils like ghee and olive oil in your diet. It also suggests adding fibrous and hydrating fruits like bananas, apples, and prunes in your diet. Some Vata pacifying herbs from Ayurveda include triphala tablets or trifala powder can also be used to treat constipation.
Home Remedies for Constipation
Constipation can be cured by following certain home remedies that are very easy to implement. With the implementation of these home remedies for constipation, one can experience free and smooth bowel movements, without the need to apply pressure. The sense of incomplete bowel movements shall also fade away.
Water, as was already mentioned, is one of the major components of our body that helps in most metabolic activities, especially digestion. Drinking good amounts of water every day (at least 6 to 8 glasses) will help not only in maintaining an optimum water level in the body but will also help in smooth bowel movements. Drinking water throughout the day is helpful. It is suggested that people who suffer constipation must drink at least one liter of water early in the morning at one time (not bottoms up, but gradually) and then have a vigorous walk of at least 10 minutes. As water suddenly rushes through the digestive system, it will wash away any undigested food in the stomach and the small intestines, moving it into the large intestine. Here, the rushing water dilutes the hard stool and makes it softer and easier to move. The water in your stomach also puts pressure on the lower part of the digestive system.
Fruits are highly recommended for controlling constipation. Fruits contain dietary fiber that fights constipation. There are many varieties of fruits and vegetables that can be consumed on a daily basis to avoid constipation. Fruits such as apples, papayas, oranges, apricots, guavas, strawberries, dates, raisins, and pears have all been associated with reduced constipation. (Wisten. A Messner. T. (2005))
Vegetables are also high in fiber. Vegetables can be eaten either cooked or half-cooked. In the case of constipation, the best way to consume them is by consuming them half-cooked or raw. Vegetables such as cabbages, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and all types of gourds such as bottle gourd, snake gourd, bitter gourd, and ridged gourd contain good fiber amounts to help clean out your bowels. (Chhajer, B. (2005))
Food is the first and often the best source in identifying the problem of constipation. People whose diet consists of less fiber or no fiber at all are more prone to problems of constipation. The best source of dietary fiber is through the intake of vegetarian food. It is recommended to eat whole grains such as whole wheat and whole rice, vegetables, herbs and various fruits. Fiber is the undigested food that soaks up water in the process of digestion. When moving into the colon, undigested fiber is converted to stool. As it contains more water, the stool then easily moves through the colon and out of the body. (Cummings J.H. (1984))
Whole Grain Products
Consuming whole grain products is recommended in place of polished grain products, which includes whole wheat, whole or brown rice, rather than white rice and polished wheat flour. Whole grains contain a layer of fiber. This fiber contains essential B complex vitamins. Polished grain lacks this type of fiber. (Cummings J.H. (1984))
A fig is a sweet and chewable fruit. Figs have large amounts of fiber, which helps in easy digestion and in producing bulky stools that are easier to pass. (Lee HY, Kim JH, Jeung HW (2012))
Make a paste from a half cup of dates. Mix this paste with milk and consume it every night before going to sleep. The fiber in dates will reduce constipation.
Psyllium or Ispaghula has large amounts of dietary fiber. The fiber inside it is ideally suited for constipation because it is not absorbed by the small intestine and on its way to the colon, it absorbs a lot of water and pushes out stool, thereby relieving you from constipation. (McRorie, Daggy, Morel, Diersing, Miner and Robinson (1998))
Bishop’s Seed or Ajowan has been traditionally used in India to treat constipation. A spoonful of Ajowan seeds mixed with lukewarm water can relieve constipation.
Regular exercise is an effective remedy for constipation. Exercising regularly not only stimulates the external muscles but also the muscles in the internal organs to expand and contract. This is especially true in the case of the digestive system, which moves food through peristaltic movements. Exercise helps in maintaining optimum peristaltic movements to move food through the digestive system. Yoga can be another good choice to deal with constipation. There are exercises that specifically deal with constipation. These include Surya Namaskara, Pavanamukta Asana, Trikona Asana, Hala Asana, Tada Asana, Matsya Asana, and Ardha Matsyendra Asana.
The flax plant has been used historically in a variety of ways, including cooking, medicine, and clothing. Flax seed has specifically been used in constipation. Flax seeds are rich in soluble fiber, which makes it ideal for fighting constipation. A four-week trial research study on healthy people with flax seed intake found that their bowel movements increased by about one-third. Research has also shown that the use of flax seed in patients suffering from Constipation with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-C) showed a significant improvement in their condition with a reduction in constipation and pain. (Basch E, Bent S, Collins J, Dacey C, Hammerness P, Harrison M, Smith M, Szapary P, Ulbricht C, Vora M, Weissner W; Natural Standard Resource Collaboration (2007))
Castor Oil has been traditionally used as a laxative. It is a stimulant laxative that stimulates not only the large intestine, but also the small intestine, and it helps in washing away fecal matter. Castor oil prevents water absorption in the intestine, thus making the feces softer and easier to move. (T. S. Gaginella and S. F. Phillips (1975))
An enema is another approach to treating constipation. It is useful when water intake does not yield the expected result. Administering a plain enema with or without any medication may also help in loosening hard stool. This is particularly helpful in severe and chronic conditions of constipation.
Ratnaike, R.N. (1999). ‘Diarrhoea And Constipation In Geriatric Practice’, UK: Cambridge University Press
DiMarco, D. (1999). ‘Natural Relief From Constipation’ Chicago, McGraw-Hill Professional
Chhajer, B. (2005). ‘Constipation’, New Delhi, Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd
Marc D Basson. Constipation. URL: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/184704-overview
Annells. M, Koch. T. (2003). Constipation and the preached trio: diet, fluid intake, exercise International Journal of Nursing Studies Volume 40, Issue 8, Pages 843-852, November 2003
Wisten. A Messner. T. (2005). Fruit and fibre (Pajala porridge) in the prevention of constipation, Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-6712.2004.00308.x/abstract
Cummings J.H. (1984) Constipation, dietary fibre and the control of large bowel function Postgraduate Medical Journal (November 1984)60, 811-819
American Medical Association () American Medical Association Family Medical Guide
Lee HY, Kim JH, Jeung HW (2012) Effects of Ficuscarica paste on loperamide-induced constipation in rats, Food and Chemical Toxicology March-April 2012.
McRorie, Daggy, Morel, Diersing, Miner and Robinson (1998), Psyllium is superior to docusate sodium for treatment of chronic constipation. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 12: 491–497. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2036.1998.00336.x
Basch E, Bent S, Collins J, Dacey C, Hammerness P, Harrison M, Smith M, Szapary P, Ulbricht C, Vora M, Weissner W; Natural Standard Resource Collaboration (2007) Flax and flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum): A review by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Soc Integr Oncol. 2007 Summer;5(3):92-105.
T. S. Gaginella and S. F. Phillips (1975) Ricinoleic acid: Current view of an ancient oil, Digestive Diseases, and Sciences; Volume 20, Number 12,1975, 1171-1177, DOI: 10.1007/BF01070759