Constipation

Constipation


So what is regular?

This is a topic we tend to keep behind closed doors - the toilet door of course! If you are constipated, it's not something you gossip to your friends about. But at times, if you are experiencing it, it can take up much of your mind, until it (literally) passes.

Basically the best way to deal with constipation is to avoid it. If you have found it is an ongoing problem in your life, lifestyle changes are needed.

The boundaries of 'normal' in regular bowel movements are quite extreme. Some people may find that they go twice a day, and others may find they will only go every four days. In both cases this is normal, although for the second case the chances of future bowel cancer is increased. Studies have found that the more 'regular' you are, the less likely you are to suffer from bowel cancer in later life.

Causes of constipation
  • During premenstrual & menstrual times. This is due to a variety of hormonal changes, which effect the whole body and can make some women more susceptible to constipation.
  • Lack of fibre in the diet.
  • Dehydration. This causes the stools to become dry and hardened due to lack of fluid. It is vital to stay well hydrated to maintain regular bowel movements.
  • Shift work. This is because your body clock can become 'out of wack' and regular bowel movements become difficult to achieve.
  • Unpleasant toilet facilities (as it may put you off using the toilet or relaxing in that environment). If you ignore the urge to use your bowels, the formed stools will dry out and become hard and compacted inside you.
  • Emotional upsets. This is due to the nervous system, which can cause various changes in the body's normal functioning. This can affect the digestive system and therefore bowel movements.

Prevention

Diet and exercise is the best way to avoid constipation. Exercise is always essential in maintaining your inside health, and when it comes to being 'regular', exercise helps by stimulating your metabolism.
If you are feeling lazy, diet is still the best way to avoid constipation. Dietary fibre is found in foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, along with wholemeal breads and rice (white bread and rice have the husks of the grain removed, the husk holds the most fibre). Breakfast cereals are a good source of fibre, but avoid the sugary ones, as they are often lower in fibre. It is a good idea to check the dietary fibre value of different cereals, this will help you to find the one most suitable. If you have a diet that has been low in fibre, introduce foods high in fibre slowly, as you may find yourself with stomach cramps and frequent visits to the toilet. If your digestive system isn't used to fibre, it needs to adjust to it slowly. And remember to drink plenty of water, fibre will absorb this and pass it in your bowel movements.

Laxatives

These should be a last resource. If increasing your fibre and fluid intake does not help during an episode of constipation, then you may need a laxative. Always check that they are gentle, such as the ones containing coloxal and senna. Harsh ones may cause stomach cramps and diarrhoea. If laxatives are abused, especially the ones containing senna or cascara, your bowel can become overstimulated, and eventually the bowel will become inactive, and you find yourself more constipated.

- Louise Ganey (RN)


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