Constipations (Ways to deal with constipation)

By Khor Su Lin (CARiNG Pharmacist) | Malaysia | Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:14am

Constipations (Ways to deal with constipation)

Most people might have suffered from constipation at some point in their lives. While there is generally no single agreed upon definition for constipation, it is usually classified on the basis of stool frequency, stool size or consistency, and difficulty in passing bowel motion.

You are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following for at least 3 months:

• Two or fewer bowel movements in a week
• Straining at defecation more than 25% of the time
• Hard stools more than 25% of the time
• Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time


Constipation is usually caused by extended transit time of the stool in the colon. As a result, the colon absorbs more water from the stool, making it hard and dry. This will lead to difficulty of the rectum muscles to push out the hard and dry stool from the body.  Some of the common factors or disorders that may lead to constipation include:

• Inadequate water intake
• Diets low in fiber
• Disruption in the regular diet or routine (e.g. during vacation)
• Lack of physical activities or immobility
• Stress
• Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
• Medicines (certain painkillers, antidepressants, iron pills, antacids containing aluminium
  and calcium, etc)
• Illness (e.g. diabetes,  Parkinson's disease, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer, etc)
• Pregnancy
• Overuse of laxatives which weakens the bowel muscles in the long run


Constipation is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying health condition. Hence, treatment for constipation depends on the cause, severity, and duration of the constipation. Some of the common management for constipation include one or more of the following:

1. Changes in eating habit

Consume sufficient fibre by having at least two servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits daily.  Besides fruits and vegetables, fibre can be found in other plant products such as fibre-rich grains (e.g. oats, barley), beans (e.g. kidney beans, black beans), nuts (e.g. walnuts), or seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds). Drinking water and other liquids, such as fruit and vegetable or fruit juices and clear soups may facilitate in normalising bowel function and maintaining regularity.

2. Exercise and Lifestyle Changes

Try to exercise for about 15-30 minutes, at least three times a week. People with constipation should establish a more regular time for bowel movement and not to ignore the urge of passing bowel motion.

3. Medicine

Bulk-forming agents. Bulk-forming agents absorb fluid in the intestines, thus making stools bulkier.
  This will then trigger the bowel to contract, pushing the stool out. These agents should be taken with
  plenty of water to prevent bloatedness and obstruction.
Stool softeners. Stool softeners help mix fluid with stools to soften them. These may be recommended
  for people who should avoid straining when passing motion.
Osmotic agents. Osmotic agents work by retaining fluid, increasing the number of bowel movements
  and softening the stool.
Lubricants. Lubricants work by coating the surface of stool, thus helping the stool to hold in fluid and
  to be passed out easily.
Stimulants. Stimulant laxatives cause contraction of the intestine, hence moving the stool easily.
  Stimulants should be reserved for more severe constipation that does not respond to other treatments.

4. Surgery

Surgery may be needed for those whose colon muscles do not work properly, which in turn lead to severe constipation that does not respond to the usual treatment. Surgical procedures are also necessary in the event of the presence of tumour or gastrointestinal obstruction from other causes.

Effective treatment of constipation requires you to be more knowledgeable about the causes of constipation, proper diet, and appropriate use of laxatives. However, do not hesitate to consult your healthcare professionals for advice on the management of constipation and seek immediate medical attention especially if you suspect that your constipation is caused by more severe health conditions, for example colon cancer.




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