While it may appear to be a simple question, what is constipation? The term can refer to a variety of different forms of issues with bowel movement. Constipation can manifest itself in the form of hard, pellet-like stools or a decrease in stool volume. Additionally, it can refer to excessive straining, not having a daily bowel movement, or feeling as if you are unable to eliminate all of the stool. Although all of these are descriptions of constipation, the symptoms vary.
What is chronic constipation?
When constipation persists for weeks or months, it becomes chronic. Constipation symptoms vary and may indicate a variety of various disorders, necessitating a variety of different treatments, so you should be specific when presenting your unique situation to your doctor.
To clear up a widespread misconception among persons who are accustomed to having a daily bowel movement, it is perfectly acceptable not to have a bowel movement on a daily basis. While having insufficient bowel movements (generally defined as two or fewer per week) can be discomfort, there is no physical need to move your bowels daily.
Constipation is classified into two major types. The first symptom is delayed content movement across the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The second type of constipation occurs closer to the exit when stool contents are difficult to expel due to pelvic muscular difficulties. The first type of constipation can be treated by increasing your fibre intake through supplements or by increasing your fruit and vegetable diet. The second type may require additional evaluation through imaging tests or procedures.
-I'm constipated for sure! What is the reason for this?
There are a variety of reasons why you could be constipated, and it's crucial to understand why. There are a few reversible causes of constipation that can help you get your bowel movements back on track. If constipation is a new symptom, consult your primary care physician before adding fibre to your diet to ensure you don't require diagnostic testing such as abdominal x-rays or laboratory tests. If you're starting a new drug, or if you're experiencing rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, weight loss, or nausea and vomiting, consult your doctor, as any of these symptoms could indicate that you need to be checked for other, more serious medical concerns.
Apart from taking drugs, what else can I do to alleviate my constipation?
The lack of adequate evidence to enable clinicians to advocate a specific plant or fibre regimen, as we would recommend standardized doses of drugs, makes it difficult to recommend doses treatment strategies.
An intriguing new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology titled "Exploratory comparative effectiveness trial of green kiwifruit, psyllium, or prunes in US patients with chronic constipation" seeks to directly compare different, entirely natural ways to treat chronic constipation. Prunes (a type of plant-based dietary fibre) and psyllium are well-known remedies for persistent constipation. Unsurprisingly, all subjects met the primary goal of increased bowel motions. It appears that kiwifruit provided this advantage while causing fewer side effects.
This study has some significant limitations. The vast majority of patients were women, with an average age of 43, which is typical of chronic constipation patients. Patients were aware of the intervention they were receiving (kiwi, prunes, or psyllium). The study had a limited sample size of roughly 80 patients. And it remains to be seen whether the alleviation from constipation with kiwifruit lasts four weeks (which was the length of the study). It does, however, provide another potential addition to the diet for those looking for natural therapies to manage a chronic issue.
Assume the natural approach is ineffective: What happens next?
As with anything you do on your own, if you have new constipation that isn't responding to home remedies, see your doctor see if you need an evaluation to determine what's causing your problems. There is no shame in acknowledging that the modern Western diet makes it difficult to get adequate fiber (aim for 5 grams per meal). Aside from constipation, there are several reasons to consume as much fiber as possible, including colon health and healthy gut bacteria. If you are unable to consume enough fiber (or kiwis!) to alleviate constipation, there are numerous over-the-counter and prescription-strength laxatives that are effective in treating the disease. If you're unsure, reach out! There is no reason to suffer when there are other safe and efficient treatments available.