Constipation: Causes, Prevention and Solutions
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Constipation: Causes, Prevention and Solutions

Constipation is a condition characterized by infrequent bowel movements. The definition of constipation includes excessive straining, a sense of incomplete evacuation, failed or lengthy attempts to defecate, use of digital maneuvers for evacuation of stool, abdominal bloating, and hard consistency of stools.

Constipation can be organic—that is, the result of actual physical change in an organ. It can be caused by a tumor or cancer that is obstructing the intestines, a stricture that narrows them, or some disorder such as a hypothyroid condition.

That is why it is important to consult a doctor if you have constipation, especially if it has come on fairly suddenly and last for more than a day or two.

Movements that are hard to pass and require straining can bring about rectal problems such as hemorrhoids and fissures, or they can aggravate hernias or the tendency to a hernia.

Defaecatory disorders are caused by insufficient relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles or a failure to generate adequate propulsive forces during defaecation. Constipation can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms that include nausea, heartburn, headache and distress in the rectum or intestines, continuing until the stool is passed.

Sometimes the bowel movements are not difficult to pass and cause no unpleasant symptoms but simply do not occur as the individual thinks they should.

The average person has a movement every day, usually right after breakfast, but countless people are perfectly normal even though they have more than one movement a day, or a movement every other day—or every third, fourth, fifth or even eight day!

Causes of Constipation

Self-induced constipation is caused by one or more of the following factors:

  1. Improper diet: eating the wrong things or eating too little
  2. The habitual use of laxatives, cathartics and other medication
  3. Irregularity in habit of elimination

Functional constipation can also be caused by sluggishness. After food has been digested in the stomach and intestines, the residue is passed along in the form of watery material.

The water is absorbed by the colon; that is why feces become hard and difficult to pass if they remain there too long before being eliminated.

The stools are pushed along by a series of wavelike peristaltic movements. These waves are irregular; usually they are strongest in the morning. Therefore, it is easiest to have a bowel movement before or just after breakfast. 

In some people, the peristalsis is weak. This is apt to happen with increased age; elderly people may need treatment to help elimination.


How to Prevent or Cure Functional Constipation

If you actually have constipation, there are certain things you can safely do to cure it. These same methods will also prevent you from becoming constipated

  1. Cultivate regular habits of elimination

Choose a regular time shortly before or after breakfast every morning for going to the toilet, and attempt to defecate—without straining—whether or not you have the urge. Allow 10 minutes. Relax and be comfortable. If you go before breakfast, it will help to drink a glass or two of fluid upon getting out of bed; it can be warm or cool water, fruit juice, tea or coffee. 



Teaching your bowels to move regularly can be done with patience, and once acquired, the habit persists.


2. Diet

The residue of the foods you eat is easier to eliminate if it contains some roughage in the form of fibers, lubricants in the form of fats or oils and fluids. These should be included in the diet of healthy people.



However, persons suffering from certain diseases will not be able to tolerate roughages. To cure or prevent constipation, make sure that your diet also includes the following foods and beverages:

For breakfast: one half to one glassful of juice—tomato, grapefruit, prune or orange. Also one item from each of the following categories:

Mixed dried fruits: prunes, apricots or stewed figs

Cooked, whole-grain cereals with milk; barley, brown rice, oats or wheat


Butter or margarine

Whole-grain bread


For lunch, dinner or supper, some of the following:

Green leafy vegetables—beet greens, spinach, escarole, lettuce, turnip, greens, dandelions greens or mustard greens



Baked potatoes (eat the skin)



Butter or margarine; salad oils

Dried or stewed fruits, especially for dessert at the evening meal.

Drink two glasses of fluid between meals, and at least eight glasses of water during the day. Take an extra amount of water in dry season, because part of it is lost to sweating.



3. Exercise

Strong abdominal muscles are helpful in aiding the bowels to eliminate gas and stools. If you do not have a firm, well-toned abdominal wall, be sure to start exercises. If your job requires much sitting, you should indulge in regular sports or other forms of exercise.



4. Live sensibly

Try to avoid the strains and stress of modern living. Get some relaxation. Do not worry about your constipation. If your doctor gives you a clean bill of health on your periodic checkups and you follow the suggestions in chapter 9 for home checkups between visits, your constipation is not going to harm your health. But if failure to move the bowels causes real discomfort, you may carry the suggestions above


5. Take an enema

It should consist of a pint of warm water containing a level teaspoonful of table salt. If an enema does not help, your doctor can show you how to insert olive oil into your rectum at night through a catheter; this will soften the stool and make it easier to pass in the morning

If you cannot take an enema, take a mild laxative such as mineral oil, petrolatum and agar, or milk of magnesia. 


Do not take enemas or laxative until you have given your bowels a chance to work by themselves. The first step in curing constipation is to stop taking all laxatives and cathartics.

Laxative are frequently the cause of your constipation, and seldom in its cure. However, long-term use of some laxatives may be associated with harmful side-effects including increased constipation and fecal impaction. Suppositories can be irritating and cause rectal fissures or increase their severity. Bulky substances such as bran can produce irritation of the colon.

A final word of warning: Do not give laxative to a child, and do not take any cathartic or laxative yourself if there is any fever, nausea, pain or general feeling of illness associated with the constipation. It can result in death if the condition is caused by appendicitis.



Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia: The Nuisance Ailments

The use of abdominal massage to treat chronic constipation by Marybetts Sinclair

Constipation by Adil E. Bharucha 

Chronic Functional Constipation by Jeong Eun Shin, Kyung Sik Park and Kwangwoo Nam 

Constipation: Pathophysiology and Current Therapeutic Approaches by Amol Sharma and Satish Rao


Rich Health Editorial Team

Health Research

Rich Health Editorial Team is made up of medical practitioners and experienced writers who provide information for dealing with health issues in a simple and easy-to-understand manner