You don’t need to suffer with constipation. There is a lot that can be done to manage this condition.
Whilst we’re all at home, not going out as much due to the corona virus, there is a risk we may move less, and eat different foods, which could trigger IBS symptoms, including constipation.
It’s always worth raising your situation with a doctor, to rule out other conditions if your symptoms don’t go away after a few days.
How do you define constipation?
Symptoms of constipation include having bowel movement less than 3 times a week, and finding your stools hard to pass.
Common causes are lack of dietary fibre, not enough exercise, not drinking enough water, or food intolerance.
There are different approaches to treatment:
First stage treatment
- Drinking enough water – always getting 8 glasses of water a day, around two litres and more if you exercise a lot. This is really important, and although it sounds quite basic, can really make a difference.
- Eating enough fibre – Eating more fibre will increase the bulk of your stool, hopefully stimulating a bowel movement. It’s important to ensure you’re well hydrated when you eat more fibre or you could get more constipated. Include fruits, vegetables, pulses and whole grains.
- Flax seeds are a good addition to the diet to help form a softer stool. Add them to porridge (oats are a good source of fibre as well)
- Exercise – moving your body every day. Gentle walking is a good start, but anything that gets your heart rate up and your body moving is important.
- Stress management – when we’re holding onto a lot of emotional weight, and we’re stressed or anxious constipation can be worse.
- Tummy massage – sometimes rubbing your stomach around your belly button can improve movement within the bowel. Always move clockwise or from right to left.
Toilet habits that help you pass stools
- Bowel retraining – don’t ignore the urge to defecate. When you need to go, make your way to a toilet. If you constantly ignore the urge to go it can interfere with the nervous message between the brain and gut.
- Allow 10 mins to pass a stool. If nothing happens then get up, and return when you next feel the urge to go. Sitting for long periods of time can impact your pelvic floor muscles.
- Using a small stool or box to raise up your legs when you’re sitting on the toilet can help to get the right position to release the stool. Lean forward to allow your pelvic floor to relax.
- Relaxing on the toilet, don’t sit and use your phone or read to distract yourself. Try deep breathing and concentrate on what you’re doing.
- Don’t hover over the toilet – even in a public toilet. Your pelvic floor doesn’t relax in this position. There are very few issues that can occur from touching a toilet seat with your leg!
To soften the stool as a third line of support you could try osmotic laxatives. These can help to loosen the bowels by drawing more water into the stool to soften it and make it easier to pass.
- Lactulose – a pre-biotic that can increase the positive bacteria in the gut. It’s a liquid sugar which can’t be digested by our body, but feeds the good bacteria, as well as drawing water into the bowel. You can start with very small amounts and build up.
- Magnesium citrate – taking magnesium can loosen the bowels. Ask a health professional about dosage.
There are other laxatives which work by irritating and stimulating the bowels, to make you want to go to the toilet, but these can affect the function of the bowel if used consistently. These shouldn’t be used every day (e.g. Senna).
Don’t use laxatives if you have Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. Don’t take laxatives for longer than a week without medical advice.
Always see a GP if your bowel habits have changed or you’re worried about them.
Your Action Points – Constipation support
There are simple changes that can help regular healthy bowel movements
- Eat more fibre – vegetables and pulses like lentils, chickpeas. Cover half your plate in vegetables at mealtimes. Aim for 25-30g fibre a day.
- Drink 8 glasses of water or herb tea.
- Try stomach massage to keep things moving if it helps.
- Exercise – moving our body helps to get things moving.
- Look at your habits on the toilet to see if you can improve your posture, or timings
- Manage your stress levels
Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I specialise in all things ‘digestive health’ and I help people with their IBS symptoms.
I can help you to:
- track your symptoms in a really simple but meaningful way to understand them better
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“Anna is amazing! I feel totally transformed"
To find more about out how I work and how I’ve helped people just like you, see my IBS Diet support page