Treatments for Constipation


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Treatment list for Constipation: The list of treatments mentioned in various sources for Constipation includes the following list. Always seek professional medical advice about any treatment or change in treatment plans.

Treatment of Constipation: medical news summaries: The following medical news items are relevant to treatment of Constipation:

Treatments of Constipation discussion: Although treatment depends on the cause, severity, and duration, in most cases dietary and lifestyle changes will help relieve symptoms and help prevent constipation.

Diet

A diet with enough fiber (20 to 35 grams each day) helps form soft, bulky stool. A doctor or dietitian can help plan an appropriate diet. High-fiber foods include beans; whole grains and bran cereals; fresh fruits; and vegetables such as asparagus, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and carrots. For people prone to constipation, limiting foods that have little or no fiber such as ice cream, cheese, meat, and processed foods is also important.

Lifestyle Changes

Other changes that can help treat and prevent constipation include drinking enough water and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soup, engaging in daily exercise, and reserving enough time to have a bowel movement. In addition, the urge to have a bowel movement should not be ignored.

Laxatives

Most people who are mildly constipated do not need laxatives. However, for those who have made lifestyle changes and are still constipated, doctors may recommend laxatives or enemas for a limited time. These treatments can help retrain a chronically sluggish bowel. For children, short-term treatment with laxatives, along with retraining to establish regular bowel habits, also helps prevent constipation.

A doctor should determine when a patient needs a laxative and which form is best. Laxatives taken by mouth are available in liquid, tablet, gum, powder, and granule forms. They work in various ways:

  • Bulk-forming laxatives generally are considered the safest but can interfere with absorption of some medicines. These laxatives, also known as fiber supplements, are taken with water. They absorb water in the intestine and make the stool softer. Brand names include Metamucil®, Citrucel®, Konsyl®, and Serutan®.

  • Stimulants cause rhythmic muscle contractions in the intestines. Brand names include Correctol®, Dulcolax®, Purge®, Feen-A-Mint®, and Senokot®. Studies suggest that phenolphthalein, an ingredient in some stimulant laxatives, might increase a person's risk for cancer. The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a ban on all over-the-counter products containing phenolphthalein. Most laxative makers have replaced or plan to replace phenolphthalein with a safer ingredient.

  • Stool softeners provide moisture to the stool and prevent dehydration. These laxatives are often recommended after childbirth or surgery. Products include Colace®, Dialose®, and Surfak®.

  • Lubricants grease the stool enabling it to move through the intestine more easily. Mineral oil is the most common lubricant.

  • Saline laxatives act like a sponge to draw water into the colon for easier passage of stool. Laxatives in this group include Milk of Magnesia®, Citrate of Magnesia®, and Haley's M-O®.

People who are dependent on laxatives need to slowly stop using the medications. A doctor can assist in this process. In most people, this restores the colon's natural ability to contract.

Other Treatment

Treatment may be directed at a specific cause. For example, the doctor may recommend discontinuing medication or performing surgery to correct an anorectal problem such as rectal prolapse.

People with chronic constipation caused by anorectal dysfunction can use biofeedback to retrain the muscles that control release of bowel movements. Biofeedback involves using a sensor to monitor muscle activity that at the same time can be displayed on a computer screen allowing for an accurate assessment of body functions. A health care professional uses this information to help the patient learn how to use these muscles.

Surgical removal of the colon may be an option for people with severe symptoms caused by colonic inertia. However, the benefits of this surgery must be weighed against possible complications, which include abdominal pain and diarrhea. 1

In most cases, following these simple tips will help:

  • Eat a variety of foods. Eat a lot of beans, bran, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

  • Drink plenty of liquids.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Do not ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.

  • Understand that normal bowel habits are different for everyone.

  • If your bowel habits change, check with your doctor.
2

Changing what you eat and drink and how much you exercise will help relieve and prevent constipation. Here are some steps you can take.


1. Eat more fiber.

Fiber helps form soft, bulky stool. It is found in many vegetables, fruits, and grains. Be sure to add fiber a little at a time, so your body gets used to it slowly. Limit foods that have little or no fiber such as ice cream, cheese, meat, snacks like chips and pizza, and processed foods such as instant mashed potatoes or already-prepared frozen dinners. The following chart shows you some high-fiber foods.


High-Fiber Foods

Fruit Vegetables Breads, Cereals, and Beans
Apples
Peaches
Raspberries
Tangerines
Acorn squash
Broccoli, raw
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots, raw
Cauliflower, raw
Spinach
Zucchini
Black-eyed peas
Kidney beans
Lima beans
Whole-grain cereal, cold (All-Bran, Total, Bran Flakes)
Whole-grain cereal, hot (oatmeal, Wheatena)
Whole-wheat or
7-grain bread


2. Drink plenty of water and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soup.

Liquid helps keep the stool soft and easy to pass, so it's important to drink enough fluids. Try not to drink liquids with caffeine or alcohol in them. Caffeine and alcohol tend to dry out your system.

3. Get enough exercise.

Doctors are not sure why, but regular exercise helps your system stay active and healthy. You don't need to become a great athlete. A 20- to 30-minute walk every day will do the trick.


4. Allow yourself enough time to have a bowel movement.

Sometimes we feel so hurried that we don't pay attention to our bodies' needs. Make sure you don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.

5. Use laxatives only if a doctor says you should.

Laxatives (LAHK-sa-tivz) are medicines that will make you pass a stool. Most people who are mildly constipated do not need laxatives. However, if you are doing all the right things and you are still constipated, your doctor may recommend laxatives for a limited time.

Your doctor will tell you if you need a laxative and what type is best. Laxatives come in many forms: liquid, chewing gum, pills, and powder that you mix with water, for example.

6. Check with your doctor about medicines you may be taking.

Some medicines may cause constipation. They include calcium pills, pain pills with codeine in them, some antacids, iron pills, diuretics (water pills), and medicines for depression. If you take medicine for another problem, be sure to ask your doctor about it. 2

Most people with mild constipation do not need laxatives. However, doctors may recommend laxatives for a limited time for people with chronic constipation. 2

The truth is, habitual use of enemas is not harmless. Over time, enemas can impair the natural muscle action of the intestines, leaving them unable to function normally. An ongoing need for enemas is not normal; you should see a doctor if you find yourself relying on them or any other medication to have a bowel movement. 3

If you become constipated, first see the doctor to rule out a more serious problem. If the results show that there is no disease or blockage, and if your doctor approves, try these remedies:

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, either cooked or raw, and more whole grain cereals and breads. Dried fruit such as apricots, prunes, and figs are especially high in fiber.
  • Drink plenty of liquids (1 to 2 quarts daily), unless you have heart, blood vessel, or kidney problems. But be aware that some people become constipated from drinking large amounts of milk.
  • Some doctors recommend adding small amounts of unprocessed bran (“miller’s bran”) to baked goods, cereals, and fruit. Some people suffer from bloating and gas for several weeks after adding bran to their diets. Make diet changes slowly, to allow the digestive system to adapt. Remember, if your diet is well balanced and contains a variety of foods high in natural fiber, it may not be necessary to add bran to other foods.
  • Stay active.

Do not expect to have a bowel movement every day or even every other day. “Regularity” differs from person to person. If your bowel movements are usually painless and occur regularly (whether two times a day or three times a week), then you are probably not constipated.4

Footnotes:
1. excerpt from Constipation: NIDDK
2. excerpt from Why Am I Constipated: NIDDK
3. excerpt from Facts and Fallacies About Digestive Diseases: NIDDK
4. excerpt from Constipation - Age Page - Health Information: NIA

Last revision: Nov 10, 2003

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