Constipated? Here's what to do about it
Fixing the problem is easy. And you can do it from anywhere.
Sometimes your usual bathroom routine doesn’t go according to plan. If things haven’t been moving along like normal lately, you might be constipated.
Luckily, there are steps you can take at home to unblock yourself and feel relief.
What is constipation?
You might think not having a daily bowel movement means you’re constipated — but this isn’t the case. Officially, being constipated means having two or fewer bowel movements a week.
Other signs of constipation are straining, hard stools, a feeling of being blocked up or feeling like 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 Amitpal Johal, MD, chair of gastroenterology and hepatology at Geisinger Medical Center.
There are two types of constipation:
Also called functional constipation, primary constipation isn’t caused by something else. It’s common in children and older adults. Things that can lead to primary constipation include:
- Toilet training
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Problem with anal muscles
Secondary constipation has a clear cause. Common ones include:
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Certain medical conditions
Whichever type of constipation you have, if it lasts several weeks, you’re likely looking for a way to make going number two your body’s No. 1 priority.
What to do about constipation
Treating constipation is simple: Start with these diet and lifestyle changes to get things moving again.
Eat more fiber
Try increasing the fiber you take in. Adding fiber to your diet increases the weight of stool, speeding its passage through your intestines.
Fiber-rich foods to add to your plate:
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat bread
- Leafy greens like spinach and kale
- Brussels sprouts
Add a supplement
Not a fruit or veggie lover? Try a fiber supplement.
You can find them online or at most stores in a variety of forms, including:
But to avoid stomach upset, remember to start slow.
"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.
Drink more water
Feeling a little blocked up? Dehydration might be to blame. Solve the problem by sipping fluids — water, sports drinks with electrolytes and broth are best. And avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages. How much to drink? Dr. Johal suggests aiming for eight to 10 glasses daily. If you’re already doing that, add an extra one.
You may find more relief by heating things up. "For some people, drinking warm liquids, especially in the morning, can help unblock them," says Dr. Johal.
Try a stool softener
If you’re still having trouble getting things out, a stool softener may help. Stool softeners absorb water from your intestines, which makes poop softer and easier to pass. You can find stool softeners in pill form online and over the counter at most stores.
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 or biking for 20 minutes each day.
Focusing 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.
Don’t hold it in
"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.
So if you have to go, do it. Holding in a bowel movement now can make it harder to poop later.
Set yourself up for success
Set aside a few minutes 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.
If that doesn’t 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, talk to your healthcare provider,” says Dr. Johal. “They can help you determine what treatments might work best for you.”
How to get more fiber in your diet
Discover the benefits of drinking more water
8 ways to get more steps in your day