Many Malaysians are no strangers to constipation. However, it is usually not serious and does not last long. If you have one or more of these symptoms which persists for several weeks, then you are constipated:
- Infrequent passage of stools less than 3 times a week.
- Trouble having a bowel movement.
- Passage of hard stools.
- Incomplete emptying.
How Does Constipation Happen?
The causes of constipation include:
- Poor dietary habits with inadequate fibre intake.
- Eating a lot of fatty/oily food coupled with inadequate water intake.
- Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Habitually ignoring the urge to defecate.
- Hormonal disturbances as in pregnancy and hypothyroidism.
- Drugs like opiates and antidepressants.
- Neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury.
- Gut problems like bowel cancer, diverticular disease and fissures.
Babies Can Become Constipated Too!
Symptoms of constipation in infants is basically similar to that of adults. Babies usually become constipated because there is a change in his/her diet (from breastmilk to formula milk or solids) or the infant may not have been hydrated adequately. Hypothyroidism can also be a reason for constipation, albeit rarely.
A Healthy Bowel Diet If you find yourself constipated, changing a few things in your routine can help. For starters, it is recommended that you drink more water – about 6 to 8 glasses a day. Avoid alcohol or caffeinated drinks as they may make you want to urinate more often leading to dehydration.
In addition, you should add more fibre to your diet by including more whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables in your diet. Both water and fibre help soften stool so that it passes through the bowel more easily. Staying adequately hydrated throughout the day and consuming sufficient fibre is a good habit to have in maintaining optimal gut health.
Probiotics are also known as 'good bacteria' because they help to take care of the gut and keep the microflora balance in our intestines in perfect balance and harmony. They are found in tempeh, kimchi, yogurt, miso, and cultured milk drinks. Good gut bacteria not only stimulate better digestion, it also helps boost immunity by suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria.
Laxatives work by softening your stool or hastening bowel movement. They can be bought over-the-counter at most pharmacies, but take care not to overuse laxatives as it can be harmful. Other medical interventions for constipation may include enemas (a procedure in which liquid or gas is injected into the rectum, to expel its contents), suppositories (a small piece of solid medicine that is placed into the rectum), prescription medications, and surgery (very rare and in severe cases only). Consult your doctor to find out what is right for you.
Exercise to Train & Strengthen Bowels
Simply getting up and moving can help constipation. Regular exercise reduces the time it takes food to pass through your digestive system, thus easing constipation. If you are not fit or do not exercise regularly, start off with a brisk walk for 10-15 minutes. Sports like badminton and football are also great for getting those muscles working or any aerobic-based workout (e.g. swimming, jogging, running, and cycling).
Regulate Your Bowel Movement
If you are not accustomed to scheduling your bowel movements, now would be a good time to start. The best time for a bowel movement is 20 to 40 minutes after a meal, because feeding stimulates bowel activity. Even when you don't feel like it, just sit on the toilet for a few minutes and see where things go. If nothing happens after a few minutes just come back and try again later – you will find your "rhythm" soon enough.
Positioning Your Bowels
A good toilet position may help those that find it difficult to pass motion, those who strain when defecating or suffer from constipation. The following pointers may help make emptying your bowels easier:
- Lean forward on the toilet with your hands/elbows on your thighs.
- Bend your knees, make sure it's higher than your hips.
- Both feet firmly on the floor or foot rest.
- Bulge your abdomen outward and don't tighten it.
- Take deep, relaxing breaths and focus on pushing downward after each breath.
You should immediately see a doctor if:
- You have blood in your stool.
- You are losing weight unintentionally.
- You have severe pain during bowel movements.
- Your constipation has lasted more than three weeks.
Taking control of your digestive health can help you improve your overall health, well-being and happiness. Don't wait until it's too late; make simple, proactive changes to your diet and lifestyle today and improve your digestive health now.