Constipated? Here's How You Can Get Relief

Find out what's recommended for better bowel movements.

Constipation can make your bowel movements painful or less frequent, and it can even cause other digestive symptoms. While normal bowel frequencies vary from person to person—whether a few times a week or a few times a day—if you haven't had a bowel movement in more than three days, it may be time to intervene.

Typically, constipation isn't serious, though sometimes it can be caused by certain medications or an underlying health issue. Generally, it develops because of diet, lifestyle, and predisposition.

Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to treat your constipation. Here are some common at-home treatments.

Add Fiber to Your Diet

You may already know that people who become constipated need more fiber in their diet. Most adults should aim for 22 to 34 grams of fiber everyday but most Americans aren't consuming enough fiber in their diet.

You should slowly increase the fiber in your diet; adding it too fast can cause other symptoms like gas, bloating, and cramps. Here are some good sources of fiber:

  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Lentils
  • The skin or peel of fruits and vegetables

Don't forget to make sure you're drinking enough fluids too. Fiber needs fluid to help move through the digestive system. Without enough fluid, the added fiber may add to your constipation symptoms or experience nausea too.

Drink Fluids

Constipation occurs when stools are too hard and dry to pass easily—which is often caused by dehydration. You can stay hydrated by making sure you are consuming enough fluids like water, juice, and clear soups. Fluids will make your stool softer, thus making it easier to pass through your digestive system.

A good way to tell if you're drinking enough water is to check the color of your urine: If it's a light, lemonade-like hue, you are well hydrated. If not, you should be drinking more fluids.

Coffee can also provide relief if you're constipated since it will stimulate colon movement. Scientists are unsure why coffee causes these bowel movements, but the effect occurs with both regular and decaffeinated coffee. Consider adding a cup of coffee to your daily routine, but make sure to drink other types of fluid too.

Use a Gentle Laxative

If you're still constipated after you've made lifestyle modifications, then you might consider taking a laxative. Laxatives shouldn't be the first-line treatment for constipation.

Laxatives can be taken as a tablet, capsule, powder, chewable tablet, liquid, or suppository. Osmotic laxatives, like milk of magnesia and lactulose, work by drawing water into the colon which makes the stool softer and easier to pass.

Laxatives are meant to be a temporary solution. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking them long-term.

Get More Exercise

Sitting still for a long time or not getting enough exercise is a common cause of constipation. To treat it—get up and moving. Staying active by walking or exercising can help ease symptoms of constipation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that most adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week.

Try a Toilet Stool

Putting your legs up in a squatting position while going to the bathroom can help the process. Defecation postural modification devices (DPMDs) were created to replicate the squatting position. One study found that DPMDs positively impacted bowel movements and may offer relief for people with constipation.

The Squatty Potty is one of the most well-known toilet stools to help with constipation. However, there are plenty of other brands and generic versions on the market that will readjust you from a sitting to a squatting position.

If your at-home efforts fail to ease your constipation, contact your healthcare provider to talk about other treatments you can try.

A Quick Review

Although constipation is common, that doesn't make it any less annoying to deal with. But luckily, there are a few ways to treat it at home.

If you're constipated, you can try adding more fiber to your diet, consuming more fluids, taking a laxative, getting more exercise, or going to the bathroom in a squatting position. If these at-home treatments don't relieve your constipation, talk to a healthcare provider to see if there's an underlying cause.

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  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Eating, diet, & nutrition for constipation.

  3. National Library of Medicine. Dietary fiber.

  4. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Easy ways to boost fiber in your daily diet.

  5. National Kidney Foundation. Can dehydration affect your kidneys?

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  8. Gordon M, MacDonald JK, Parker CE, Akobeng AK, Thomas AG. Osmotic and stimulant laxatives for the management of childhood constipation. Cochrane IBD Group, ed. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016;2018(8). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009118.pub3

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity for different groups.

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