While there’s a lot of focus on healthy eating, it is equally wise to pay attention to healthy pooping. Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal problems in the United States. Approximately 42 million Americans are suffering from it.

What are the signs of constipation?

You might be constipated if you eliminate less than three times a week (Source: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases).

The stool can be hard, dry, and small. They may or may not be painful to pass. This condition can be recurrent. Acute constipation, on the one hand, is transient and harmless. On the other hand, chronic constipation could last from weeks to even years. If left untreated, constipation could lead to serious health complications such as hemorrhoids, fecal impaction, anal fissures, or rectal prolapse. Constipation is concerning if you are not passing gas or feeling bloated.

What are the common causes of constipation?

Causes include: immobility, travel, ignoring the urge to defecate, low fiber diet, drugs, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and pregnancy.

What can I do?

Immobility is a risk factor of constipation. Activity and exercise promote healthy bowel movement. We encourage people on bed rest to change position every two hours to stimulate the gut and move stools to the colon.

When you travel, take a break from prolonged sitting (by plane or car) and try to relieve yourself even in the unfamiliar bathroom. The different environment may cause you to ignore the urge to defecate, and you may no longer feel the urge if it becomes a habit.

Opt for a fibrous, bulk-forming diet. It absorbs fluid in the intestines. Bear in mind to increase your fluid intake by at least two liters or more daily to avoid bowel obstruction. This process facilitates the gut to contract and move the stools out.

Certain medications can cause constipation. They include antacids, anticholinergics, antispasmodics, calcium channel blockers, diuretics, iron supplements, narcotics, and drugs used to treat depression and Parkinson’s disease.

Foods to Avoid

If you’re constipated, The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends avoiding foods with little or no fiber, such as:

  • Cheese
  • Chips
  • Fast food
  • Ice cream
  • Meat
  • Prepared foods such as some frozen meals, snack foods
  • Processed foods such as hot dogs, some microwavable dinners

Maria Delia Crosby is an RN and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) candidate with a concentration on Adult Gerontology in the Department of Nursing and Health Sciences at The University of Vermont. Born in the Philippines, she started a career as a political cartoonist and later became involved with social justice and public health in Manila. In Vermont, she was engaged in genetic research at UVM with focus on the phylogenetic relationships of grammitid ferns (Polypodiaceae) species. She lives in Shelburne, Vermont with her husband Nôwa, and their 13-year old cat named Uling.

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