Constipated? Here's How to Poop More Easily

Here's what a gastroenterologist recommends for better bowel movements.

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

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

And you can start by treating it yourself. Here's how, according to Pat Raymond, MD, a fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology.

Use a Gentle Laxative

When patients come to her with constipation not caused by another condition, Dr. Raymond recommends a gentle osmotic laxative. These work by pulling water into the colon from other parts of the body, creating a softer stool that's easier to pass. Some over-the-counter options include Miralax, milk of magnesia, and magnesium citrate.

She also advises staying away from "stimulant" laxative drugs like Dulcolax and Senna. "They irritate the inside wall of the colon, and after a while, the colon stops being responsive."

Talk with your health care provider before taking any laxatives long-term; they are meant to be a temporary solution.

Add Fiber to Your Regular Diet

You may already know that people who become constipated need more fiber in their diet, routinely. However, if you are already constipated, eating fiber is not the solution.

"If you're constipated, you've got about four feet of solid stool in your colon," said Dr. Raymond. "Stuffing fiber in the top end is not going to help." Fiber helps regulate bowel movements by absorbing extra water and helping to form bulky stool, which is easier to pass. However, if your stool is not moving, consuming fiber can backfire and make constipation worse.

So you should increase fiber intake after you've addressed your initial constipation with a laxative. Then, start taking a daily fiber supplement, like Metamucil or Citrucel.

Getting more fiber in your everyday diet is easy to do. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help keep your bowel movements more regular. "If you're eating things that are low in fiber and high in fat, then perhaps you need to be eating better," said Dr. Raymond.

Get More Exercise

Aerobic exercise causes increases in heart rate and breathing, which can stimulate muscle contractions throughout the body and speed up a slow colon. This is also why sedentary behavior is a common cause of constipation.

You can benefit from less intense forms of exercise, too. "We think that something as simple as walking may help with stool transit," said Dr. Raymond. "So taking a nice brisk walk after you've eaten may help you have an easier, quicker bowel movement."

Drink Fluids

Constipation occurs when stools are too hard and dry to pass easily—which is often caused by dehydration. "We tell people to make sure they're drinking plenty of fluids," said Dr. Raymond, although she notes that there's no evidence of exactly how much water that should be.

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 provide even more relief if you are constipated. According to a 2022 Nutrients article, coffee is known to stimulate colon movement. Scientists are unsure why coffee causes these bowel movements, but the effect occurs with both regular and decaffeinated coffee. Consider adding one or two cups of coffee to your daily routine but make sure to drink other types of fluid, too.

Try a Toilet Stool

Putting your legs up in a squatting position while pooping can help the process, especially for those with defecation disorders (which are more severe than constipation and can involve problems with the pelvic floor muscles). Squatting "creates a tighter angle between the thigh bone and the pelvis," said Dr. Raymond, "which gives you more oomph for pushing that bowel movement out."

The Squatty Potty is one of the most well-known toilet stools to help with constipation ($25; amazon.com). However, there are plenty of other brands and generic versions on the market that will readjust you from a sitting to a squatting position. "We do prefer you get a stool that wraps around the base of the toilet. That way you don't trip, the way you could with a regular step stool or a pile of books," Dr. Raymond said.

If your at-home efforts fail to ease your constipation, contact your health care provider.

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