Re-establish regularity. Eating, especially in the morning, is a wake-up call to the bowel. Before you rush off to work in the morning, schedule time at home in the morning to attend to your needs. Usually, the bowel is ready to expel its contents about half an hour after the first meal.
Don’t strain. Trying to force out hard, dry, recalcitrant stool won’t relieve your constipation; it may lead to hemorrhoids and a protrusion of rectal tissue through your anus, also known as prolapse of the rectum, says Dr. Wilson. If you really can’t go after 15 minutes, try again later.
Exercise. Exercise stimulates bowel function. However, heavy exercise may cause dehydration, so remember to replenish water loss by drinking plenty of water. Walking, swimming, or doing any other aerobic exercise for half an hour three times a week may be enough to help your bowels (as well as the rest of your body) be healthier.
Doctors agree that, except in rare cases, you should do your best to avoid taking chemically-based laxatives. Why? Excessive laxative use is likely to make your bowel lazy, which means that you won’t be able to go without help. Worse, laxatives often set up a vicious circle, in which you are constantly alternating between constipation and diarrhea, and you never have regular bowel movements.
Try a natural laxative. “If you have mild discomfort from constipation because you’re traveling and can’t get to the gym or eat your fruits and vegetables, try a glycerine suppository, aloe capsules, milk of magnesia, or prune juice,” says Dr. Wilson. “Sometimes even a warm cup of broth will help your bowels move more quickly.”
Use a footstool. “If you’re constipated, propping your feet up on a stool with your knees bent while you sit on the toilet will straighten the angle of your bowel and help you pass stool more quickly,” says Jacqueline Wolf, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
When to See a Doctor
Taking medications such as antidepressants or other prescription drugs can cause constipation. If you’ve recently started a new medication and you’re suddenly constipated, see your doctor.
Irregular bowel movements could also point to a food allergy, so it’s important to consult your physician for a blood test to see which foods may be upsetting you.
Also, any of the following symptoms warrant medical attention:
- Blood accompanying a bowel movement
- A change in bowel movements, such as worsening constipation despite home remedies, or alternating constipation and diarrhea
- Abdominal pain