Constipation has several different meanings to people. It may mean a hard bowel movement, bowel movements infrequently, or difficulty in having a bowel movement. When talking to your Nurse Practitioner, Physician, or Physician Assistant, it is important to describe what is happening if constipation is a problem for you.

The amount of time it takes for food to be eliminated from the body can be related to how much fiber and fluid is consumed. People who have a diet high in fiber may have twice as many bowel movements as people who eat a low fiber diet. Exercise is also important. The lack of certain minerals such as potassium or too much of certain minerals such as calcium may also cause constipation.

Many prescription and non-prescription medications can cause problems. Laxatives, if overused, may have the reverse effect and cause constipation. Other causes include hypothyroidism, diabetes, mechanical obstruction, and other intestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.

What can be done?

Normal bowel function can be restored in most people. It requires a proper mental attitude, some patience, and a few of the following steps:

  • Discover your own natural rhythm of bowel movement frequency. It is not necessary to go every day. Try to have a bowel movement when you feel the urge to go have one.
  • The size, consistency, and color of bowel movements changes with different people. But it is important to look for changes such as loose or watery stools, black and tarry stools, or blood in the stools.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. Do not hurry while on the toilet. Try spending 15 minutes on the toilet about 20 to 30 minutes after breakfast or dinner according to your natural rhythm. Establish your own timetable. Do not rush!
  • A diet high in fiber and an increase in fluids may be all that is necessary. Try to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid each day. If the above steps do not help, a bulk laxative such as Citrucel, Benefiber, or Metamucil may help. Use as directed one to three times per day.
  • High fiber foods include (raw) fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, and bran cereals.
  • A regular diet high in fiber will also be most beneficial. Consult your health care provider if you continue to have problems.