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Being constipated is downright uncomfortable. Here’s how to get relief.

Some people think if they don't have a bowel movement every day, they're constipated, but this isn’t the case. Officially, being constipated means having two or fewer bowel movements a week.

You may also be constipated if you experience straining, hard stools, a feeling of being blocked up or a feeling that you don't completely empty your bowels.

"If you're constipated, you may also feel cramping, bloating, nausea or pain in the rectum from straining," says Dr. Amitpal Johal, division chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at Geisinger Medical Center.

If any of these feelings last for several weeks or longer, you’re likely looking for a constipation remedy. Here's what you can do at home to unblock yourself and feel relief.

What to do about constipation

Treating constipation typically begins with diet and lifestyle changes. The changes you make can speed up the rate that stool moves through your intestines.

Here are three easy changes that can help you relieve constipation:

Eat more fiber

Try increasing the fiber you take in. Adding fiber to your diet increases the weight of stool and can speed its passage through your intestines.

"A sudden increase in the amount of fiber you're eating can trigger uncomfortable bloating and gas, so start adding it to your diet slowly and increase the amount you consume over a few weeks," says Dr. Johal.

This constipation remedy usually involves adding more fiber into your diet by eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Drink more water

Make sure you're drinking enough fluids each day, because dehydration is one of the most common causes of chronic constipation.

"You should aim to drink between eight and 10 glasses of water or non-caffeinated drinks each day. And if you already are, two to four extra glasses of water a day may help ease constipation," says Dr. Johal.

If you're constipated, don’t just focus on warding off dehydration by drinking more fluids, but make them the right fluids by avoiding alcoholic or caffeinated beverages.

"For some people, drinking warm liquids, especially in the morning, can help unblock them," says Dr. Johal.

Move more often

Exercising most days of the week is another good way to relieve your constipation.

"Physical activity can increase the muscle activity in your intestines, helping move things along easier and faster," says Dr. Johal. Exercise to ease constipation doesn't have to be drastic — it could be as simple as walking each day.

Set yourself up for success

Set aside time each day so you can take your time in the bathroom. Allow yourself enough time to have a bowel movement without distractions or feeling rushed. Plus, establishing a routine may help.

"Our lives can get busy, especially if you feel like you're in a rush to get to work in the morning, but it's important to not ignore the urge to have a bowel movement," says Dr. Johal.

Putting some focus on the position of your body during a bowel movement can make a difference, too.

"Some people find that placing a small stepstool under their feet while sitting on the toilet makes bowel movements easier — this position can help you flex your hips and place your pelvis in a more natural squat position," says Dr. Johal.

If none of these changes help unblock you, adding processed or synthetic fiber to your daily diet, or taking a stool softener, a rectal glycerin suppository or laxatives can help.

“As always, if you have any questions or concerns, call your doctor,” says Dr. Johal. “They can help you determine what treatments might work best for you.”

Next steps:

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Colon cleanse: What is it and do you need one?
Meet Amitpal Johal, MD
Learn more about GI care at Geisinger

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