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Constipation: Common Causes And What To Do To Help

Have you heard of the movie “constipation?”


That’s because it hasn’t come out yet.

(Do you find that you are spending more time on the toilet than you would like? Are you even considering replacing your toilet seat with a soft cushion because of the time you feel like you have to spend there every day?)

All jokes aside, constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States. Almost everyone experiences constipation at some point in their life. Most constipation is temporary and not serious.

What is constipation?

Constipation is defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times per week. Stools are usually hard, dry, small and difficult to evacuate.There may or may not be pain with evacuation. Often people who are constipated experience bloating and have to strain to have a bowel movement.

What are normal bowel habits?

Normal stool regularity ranges from having a bowel movement three times per day to three times per week. Some people believe they are constipated when they don’t have a bowel movement every day. This is not true.

Common causes of constipation:

  1.   Lifestyle: Not eating enough fruit, vegetables and whole grains can make stool hard and difficulty to pass. Changes in diet (e.g. traveling) along with inactivity can lead to constipation.
  2.   Medication induced: Many medications can cause constipation. Common examples are: pain medications, antidepressants and iron supplements. Some medications used to treat overactive bladder can cause constipation.
  3.   Dehydration: Adequate water intake is important to help food move through your intestines. A general goal is to consume 64 ounces of water per day.
  4.   Poor bowel habits: Ignoring the urge to go (e.g. too busy, avoidance of public restrooms) can overtime cause you to stop feeling the urge, resulting in constipation.
  5.   Pelvic floor dysfunction: inappropriate pelvic floor muscle contraction or failure of the pelvic floor muscles to relax during attempted defecation can contributing to outlet obstructions and subsequent constipation.

How do you treat constipation?

Treatment may vary based on your individual response and needs. There are three key items that affect how often we have bowel movements: 1. Fiber intake, 2. Activity and exercise, 3. Fluid intake. If you have tried to improve each of these three areas and still struggle with constipation, an initial first step to take may be using an osmotic agent like Magnesium or Miralax. If you continue to struggle, please seek medical care and exam. At The Woman’s Center for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, we would be happy to help guide you through treatment to restore normal life.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2018

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