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Digestive health

How to manage constipation

Simply put, constipation is defined as infrequent, incomplete or difficult bowel movements. It isn’t defined by a number because for some it’s normal to have one or even three bowel movements a day; others go two or three times a week. What is normal is that a stool is soft and easy to pass.

Constipation usually occurs when your body absorbs too much water from the stool as it moves through your colon. When that happens, the stool can become hard or pellet-like, and difficult to pass.

And it’s a common problem: An estimated 15-30% of Canadians suffer from chronic constipation. Symptoms like belly pain and bloating from gas can affect your quality of life. For instance, it may be difficult to sit or bend, and you may have poor apetite or feel ill or unwell. All that can take away enjoyment of your daily life, and cause you to avoid social functions.

The good news though is that, usually, constipation can be treated successfully.

Here’s some advice on how to do just that.

Help prevent and relieve the symptoms of constipation

Certain dietary and lifestyle choices will help both prevent and relieve constipation. Start with the following:

  • Eat more fibre. It’s the most effective way to manage constipation (besides taking medication). Aim to get 25-35 g of fibre every day. A good way to do that is to include fibre in all of your meals and snacks by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain cereals and breads. To reduce bloating, start slow and gradually add more fibre to your diet, and drink fluids when eating them.
  • Reduce the amount of low-fibre foods you eat. Limit processed foods, foods high in fat, and large servings of meat and cheese.
  • Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluid — especially when eating fibre. Enjoy water, juices (prune and fruit with pulp, for example), and hot beverages (like broth, decaffeinated tea and coffee). Why decaf? Because caffeinated drinks can lead to dehydration, even though they may help move your bowels.
  • Get active. Regular exercise can help improve bowel activity. Aim for daily activity you enjoy — like walking, swimming, cycling, or stretching.
  • Go when you have to go. If you don’t, your body may absorb more water from the stool, making it harder and more difficult to pass.
  • Set a routine. It may help to set aside bathroom time at the same time every day (like after a meal).

When lifestyle changes don’t help, it may be time to explore other treatments.

You can also visit Find Support and search “constipation” for organizations and resources in your area.

How to manage constipation
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