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Constipation is when you have less frequent or difficult to pass bowel movements. You may feel bloated or pain when passing the stool. The stool may be small, hard and dry. You may not feel fully emptied.
What causes constipation?
Below are common causes:
Not drinking enough fluids
A diet low in fiber
Eating in a hurry or not on a regular basis
Not being physically active
Pain pills or other medicines
Not using the bathroom when you feel the urge
Abuse of laxatives
Disease or problems with the colon or rectum
Stroke or paralysis
Do you drink plenty of fluids?
Drink 8 to 10 glasses of fluids a day (water, juice, tea, etc.). Warm liquids like coffee, tea, or hot water with lemon may help you have a bowel movement.
Do you eat foods high in fiber?
There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber attracts water and turns into a gel. This slows digestion, but also creates a softer stool that may be easier to pass. Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, apples, pears, and some other fruits and vegetables.
Insoluble fiber is found in foods like wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. It may help speed the passage of foods through the gut and adds bulk to the stool. Both types of fiber along with enough fluids help prevent and relieve constipation. Foods often contain both types of fiber.
How much fiber do I need?
Women should aim for 21-25 grams of total fiber each day while men need 30-38 grams per day, though it depends on age.
Are you getting enough exercise?
Exercise each day or at least every other day to get the bowel moving. Check with your doctor or nurse about what exercise is best for you.
Guidelines for Increasing Fiber Intake
Each day include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and two servings of whole grain breads, cereals, dried beans, peas or lentils in your diet.
Slowly increase the fiber in your diet to avoid bloating or gas.
Make sure to also increase your fluid intake to 8-10 glasses daily as you increase your fiber intake.
How can high fiber foods be added to my diet?
Include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and high fiber grains, like brown or wild rice, quinoa, whole grain breads, cereals, popcorn, and bran. Cooking fruits, vegetables, grains or dry beans does not decrease fiber, but peeling or juicing fruits or vegetables does decrease the fiber.
Add a small amount of 100% bran cereal, ground flax seed or wheat germ (1 to 3 tablespoons a day) into cooked cereal, casseroles, cookie dough, pancake batter, and other baked goods.
Add raw vegetables or fruits into salads or eat as a snack.
Use wheat germ or bran as a topping on ice cream, yogurt, pudding or applesauce.
Add nuts and dried fruits to baked goods or cereals.
You may use prunes and prune juice for their laxative effect.
Read nutrition labels to find out how much fiber per serving is in the foods you eat. Choose cereal and bread products with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving or more, when you can.
Do you eat in a hurry and not at regular times?
If you do, don’t! Space your meals throughout the day. Allow yourself enough time to eat. You’ll be more likely to include the amount of fiber and liquids that you need.
Do you always allow enough time to have a bowel movement?
It is important to allow enough time for a bowel movement. Your bowels will be more active after eating a meal. This is very common after the first meal of the day. Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. If you ignore the urge, it may not return for quite some time. If you are able to do so safely, get into a squatting position by using a step stool of Squatty Potty®. This can help more stool get out.
When should I call the doctor?
If constipation does not go away
If you have very thin, pencil-like stools
If you have abdominal pain and swelling
If you have weight loss; lack of energy or appetite
If you have blood in the stool
Before using any laxative or enemas
Foods High in Fiber:
Whole grain breads, buns, rolls or crackers (dark rye, pumpernickel, oatmeal, whole wheat)
Breads or cereals with seeds
Whole wheat flour pancakes and cookies
Bran cereals (100% bran, 40% bran flakes)
Oat bran (hot or cold)
Cereals with nuts, raisins, seeds
Whole Grains and Flours
High fiber granola bars (Fiber One®, Kashi®)
Fresh fruits, those with edible skins (apples, pears) or seeds (berries) are best
Raw or cooked vegetables
Peas, potatoes, broccoli, and carrots are great choices
Dried beans or peas in the form of bean soup, baked beans, pea soup, kidney beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, black beans
Pasta made from legumes such as edamame, garbanzo beans, or black beans
Who to Call
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions, please contact UW Health at the phone number listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) and American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH) can be reached at: (608) 890-5500.