Constipation is when a bowel movement is hard to pass and takes a very long time. It’s also called difficult or infrequent bowel movements.
You may find that you need to go to the bathroom, you have a bowel movement, but it is hard or painful to pass. You may also feel bloated and have a feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen.
Constipation is very common. In fact, up to 30% of children and adults are affected by constipation at some time in their life. Constipation is a symptom, not a disease, and it usually does not require medical treatment. Diet and lifestyle changes can be helpful. However, it is important to note that there are some medical complications that can occur from constipation and it is important to seek medical help when needed.
Persistent constipation can lead to hemorrhoids (swollen veins that appear around the anus), rectal prolapse (when the rectum becomes pushed out of place), and anal fissures (small tears or cuts in the tissue lining the anal canal).
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation is defined as having two or fewer bowel movements each week. The absence or near absence of bowel movements is not normal. In the absence of a clear cause, the diagnosis is called “functional constipation”.
In most cases of constipation, no one factor is to blame. Rather, it’s a combination of factors that contribute to the problem. Constipation is not a diagnosis itself – it’s a symptom of another underlying condition or disorder.
The most common cause of constipation is your lifestyle. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle tend to be more constipated. Lack of exercise can cause a buildup of toxins in the body, which can contribute to constipation.
In addition, eating habits and a person’s regular daily routine can contribute to constipation. However, sometimes it can be hard to identify specific factors.
Other possible factors contributing to constipation may include:
- Improper diet.
- Certain drugs.
- Lack of exercise.
- Certain medications.
- Hormonal problems.
- Medical conditions.
- Unknown factors (Functional constipation)
Most cases of constipation can be treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.
Home Remedies for Constipation
The first step is to let your healthcare provider know you are having a hard time passing stools, so you can be evaluated for constipation. You will likely be asked questions about your diet and daily routine. You may also be asked about your bowel movements and how you feel when you are constipated.
A physical exam will be done to check for other causes. A stool sample may be used to determine if an infection is present. Tests may also be done to look at your abdominal organs, if necessary.
Treatment for constipation depends on what is causing the problem in the first place. For example, constipation caused by a thyroid problem may be treated with thyroid medications. Constipation caused by a dietary problem may be treated by following a special diet.
1. Eat More Fiber
Eating plenty of fiber is a great way to prevent constipation. Soluble fiber absorbs water, forming a gel that helps prevent constipation (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most Americans get only 15 grams of fiber a day. The recommended intake is 38 grams a day for women and 30 grams for men.
Soluble fiber is found in many foods, including fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. Some examples of foods high in soluble fiber include:
- Beans and lentils.
- Cooked carrots.
- Dried apricots.
- Whole grain bread.
- Whole-grain cereal.
Some high-fiber foods may also contain insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is not absorbed by the body. It passes through the digestive system relatively intact and helps to keep the gut healthy (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
Soluble fiber is only found in plant foods, while insoluble fiber is found in both plants and animals. Foods high in insoluble fiber include:
- Whole grains.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Whole wheat bread, pasta, crackers.
- Brown rice.
- Whole-grain cereal.
- Whole grain bread.
- Nuts are high in insoluble fiber.
Bottom Line: Eating plenty of fiber is one of the best ways to prevent constipation. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
2. Drink Water
Drinking plenty of water is one of the best ways to prevent constipation and treat it. It is important to drink enough water every day.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that men drink about 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages each day and that women drink about 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages each day (27Trusted Source).
Dehydration can cause constipation (28Trusted Source).
One study found that drinking 2 cups of water before meals helped people lose weight and feel more full (29Trusted Source).
Bottom line: Drinking plenty of water can help prevent constipation and is one of the best ways to treat it.
3. Try Probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can be found in certain foods. A healthy gut contains billions of bacteria, including some that may promote health (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
These healthy bacteria live in the gut and are important for digestion and overall health. However, they may be lost when people take antibiotics, which kill off gut bacteria.
Taking probiotics is one way to help replenish these healthy bacteria.
Probiotics are found in some foods, including dairy products, yogurt, and fermented foods. However, it can be difficult to get enough of these probiotics from food alone.
Probiotic supplements can be a good way to get more of these healthy bacteria into the gut.
One study found that people who took a probiotic supplement experienced a significant reduction in constipation and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. They also had better bowel movements, better quality of life, and better sleep (20Trusted Source).
Bottom Line: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are found in dairy products, fermented foods, and some probiotic supplements. Taking probiotics may help relieve constipation.
4. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol can have negative effects on the digestive system. Both can cause constipation or aggravate it in those who already have it (21Trusted Source).
Caffeine is a stimulant that is found in many beverages and foods, including tea, coffee, chocolate, and some soft drinks.
Caffeine makes you urinate more frequently. As a result, people who drink caffeine may feel like they have to go to the bathroom more often.
However, caffeine also causes people to have fewer bowel movements and constipation. Some studies suggest that coffee may cause constipation, but in others, coffee has been linked to less constipation (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
Alcohol can also cause constipation. One study found that beer was linked to constipation, but wine and spirits were not (25Trusted Source).
In another study, alcohol was linked to constipation, but in some people, it was linked to diarrhea or both (26Trusted Source).
Bottom line: Caffeine and alcohol can cause or worsen constipation. Avoid coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda. Limit alcohol.
5. Adequate Exercise
Exercising regularly is a great way to keep your digestive system healthy. A 2007 study found that people who exercised for an hour or more per day had fewer symptoms of constipation (27Trusted Source).
Another study found that people who had at least three bowel movements a day had a lower risk of developing constipation (28Trusted Source).
However, it’s important to avoid exercise that may cause constipation. Vigorous exercise may cause constipation, especially in people who are not used to it (29Trusted Source).
Bottom line: Regular exercise prevents constipation, and high-intensity exercise may cause it.
6. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is a plant with a gel-like inner layer. The gel is made up of many nutrients, including important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Studies have shown that aloe vera may help relieve constipation, as well as diarrhea (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source). It works by increasing the amount of water in the stools.
When ingested, aloe vera increases the amount of water in the colon. This leads to softer, easier-to-pass stools.
Bottom Line: Aloe vera is a plant with a gel-like inner layer. When ingested, it increases the amount of water in the colon, which leads to softer stools.
. Omega-3 oil: Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain health, but they may also be beneficial for digestive health.
7. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve constipation by helping to soften stool and relieve intestinal spasms.
Studies show that fish oil supplementation is effective for relieving constipation and improving bowel movement frequency and consistency (21Trusted Source).
Bottom Line: Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that may help relieve constipation.
8. Green Tea
Green tea may help reduce constipation by increasing the frequency and intensity of bowel movements.
It may also help relieve constipation by reducing inflammation and promoting a healthy gut microbiome.
One study found that participants who drank green tea experienced a significant improvement in bowel movement frequency. The participants also experienced a decrease in constipation symptoms (22Trusted Source).
Bottom Line: A daily cup of green tea is an easy way to improve the frequency of bowel movements.
9. Prune Juice
Prune juice may help relieve constipation by softening the stool. This is important because it makes bowel movements easier and aids in the removal of stool from the body.
In one study, people who drank prune juice experienced a significant improvement in constipation symptoms. The participants also had increased bowel movement frequency (23Trusted Source).
Bottom Line: Prune juice may help relieve constipation by softening stool and making bowel movements easier.
Laxatives are drugs or supplements that can help relieve constipation. They work by stimulating the muscles in the large intestine, which leads to the increased frequency of bowel movements.
However, laxatives can cause side effects and may be habit-forming.
Bottom Line: Laxatives are drugs or supplements that can help relieve constipation by increasing the frequency of bowel movements.
11. Castor oil
Castor oil is a thick, sticky oil that may help relieve constipation by increasing the frequency of bowel movements. However, it is not recommended to use castor oil as a laxative on a regular basis.
It can cause side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain (24Trusted Source).
Bottom Line: Castor oil may be effective for relieving constipation, but it can also cause side effects.
12. Animal Milk
Animal milk is loaded with proteins and fats, which may make it helpful for relieving constipation.
One study found that people who drank cow’s milk experienced a significant improvement in constipation symptoms. The participants also had a better quality of life, fewer bowel movements, and better sleep (25Trusted Source).
However, this may be due to the high amount of calcium in cow’s milk, which is known to be beneficial for constipation.
Bottom Line: Milk may help relieve constipation due to its high amount of proteins and fats.
Flaxseed is a gel-like substance that is rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. This may make it helpful for relieving constipation.
One study found that participants who took flaxseed supplements experienced a significant improvement in constipation symptoms. Flaxseed also led to an increase in the frequency of bowel movements but had no effect on the consistency of stool (26Trusted Source).
Bottom Line: Flaxseed is a gel-like substance that may be helpful for relieving constipation due to its fiber and omega-3 fatty acid content.
If non of the home remedies work for you, and if your symptoms continue to persist, please visit a doctor.