Constipation: Causes and treatments

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Constipation is one of those topics few like to talk about. If you’ve suffered from this problem, you know it can be both painful and frustrating.

Women and the elderly are more commonly affected.

Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. The normal length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person, but going longer than three days without a bowel movement is too long.

Patients are considered constipated if they're straining during a bowel movement more than 25 percent of the time. Hard stools, incomplete evacuation and two or fewer bowel movements a week are also signs of constipation.

The causes of constipation

  • Inadequate water intake
  • Inadequate fiber in the diet
  • A disruption of regular diet; traveling
  • Inadequate exercise
  • Eating large amounts of dairy products
  • Stress
  • Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement; pain from hemorrhoids
  • Overuse of laxatives
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Antacid medicines
  • Medicines
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Colon cancer

Constipation diagnosed

  • Lower G.I. study
  • Colonoscopy

What you eat can prevent or reverse constipation

Dietary fiber refers to the edible parts of plants or carbohydrates that cannot be digested. Fiber is in all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

The fiber which is best to ease constipation

  • Whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta
  • Cereals
  • Pasta
  • Fresh Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Lentils

The average American gets about 11 grams of fiber daily, much less than we need. Women should get 25 grams of fiber daily. Men should aim for 35 grams of fiber daily. Eat at least nine servings (2 cups) of fiber-filled fruits and vegetables each day.

Some people get stomach cramps and gas when they increase their intake of fiber. Change your diet gradually and increase fluids to reduce discomfort.

“Nature’s remedy,” prunes, contain sorbitol, which has a natural, laxative effect in the body. One cup of pitted, uncooked prunes contains 12 grams of fiber.

It’s best to get fiber from food, but if you can’t eat enough fruits and vegetables to make a difference, then opt for psyllium powder. Mix the powder in a glass of water, three times daily. A high-fiber diet can help chronic constipation.

If you have a sudden change in frequency of bowel movements and develop acute constipation, talk to your doctor.

Constipation can be treated at home

  • Exercise. Take a short walk each day
  • Drink enough fluids
  • Include fruits, vegetables and fiber in your diet each day
  • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement
  • Add synthetic fiber such as Citrucel, Metamucil or Perdiem

In difficult cases of constipation, it is better to try saline enema, laxative, such as Fleet, Milk of Magnesia, or Miralax. Regular use may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb vitamin D and calcium. Do not use laxatives for longer than two weeks without consulting your doctor.

Talk to your doctor before using an enema.

Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to