How to get rid of constipation fast and naturally

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Constipation can be caused by a wide range of factors, from a diet lacking in fiber, to certain medications, and even problems with the nerves and muscles in the digestive tract.

But whatever its cause, one thing is certain, it’s an uncomfortable state to be in and you want it remedied as quickly as possible.

In this article we’ll take a look at the possible reasons for your constipation and we’ll find out what remedies you can take to get things moving again.

What Is Constipation?

Being constipated means that passing a stool is difficult, or that it is happening less often than normal. Because constipation can be triggered by so many things, most people will experience the problem at one time or another.

Constipation isn’t usually serious, and can generally be rectified without you needing to see your doctor – although if self-help remedies don’t work then you should seek medical help.

What is the definition of normal when it comes to the length of time between bowel movements?

It depends on what is normal for you, and varies widely from person to person. Some people open their bowels three times a day after main meals, others will only pass a stool a couple of times a week.

As long as the stool is soft and you don’t have to strain to pass it then you aren’t constipated.

Going longer than 3 days without a bowel movement is usually too long and results in feces becoming hard and difficult to pass.

When feces remain in the colon for too long, the colon pulls too much water from them which results in a much harder, drier stool that can become difficult and painful to pass or which even gets completely stuck.

What Causes Constipation?

While identifying constipation is easy, pinpointing its cause can be quite difficult because so many elements can contribute to constipation, either as a single factor, or as one of multiple causes.

If you frequently find that you have had to strain when you have a poo, and now no matter how hard you push nothing comes out, then your diet could be at fault, you may not drink enough fluid during the day, and you may need to move around more. Basically your lifestyle is probably the culprit.

If you tend to have easy and regular bowel movements and are suddenly unable to pass a motion, it could be down to a new medication that you are taking, stress could be a factor, or it could be down to a simple change in your routine. For example many people find that travelling leaves them bunged up for a few days and they need laxatives to resolve the problem.

In some cases an underlying medical condition can be the cause of your constipation. The muscles and nerves responsible for moving food through the digestive system may not be working properly, you could have an underactive thyroid, or you could have an obstruction like a tumor in your bowel.

Lack of Fiber In Your Diet

Lack of Fiber In Your Diet

Fiber bulks up the stool and absorbs water keeping your stool soft. People who eat diets rich in fiber are much less likely to suffer from constipation.

It is important to eat plenty of foods rich in fiber such as fruits and vegetables, and legumes. Fiber promotes bowel movements and prevents constipation.

When you already have constipation, additional fiber may not be the best solution, however. When things have become backed up, adding more bulk to the queue often makes things worse.

Physical Inactivity

Constipation can be the result of being too sedentary. This is especially true for older adults. Seniors tend to be less active than younger people and this does have an effect on bowel movements.

It’s the case for younger people too if they don’t get much exercise, and constipation is a common problem for anyone who becomes bedridden for a time.

Experts don’t understand the full reason for this but some suggest that physical activity keeps our metabolism high, making the digestive processes in our body happen more rapidly.

Bottom line – physically active people are much less likely to become constipated than those with a sedentary lifestyle.

Some Medications that cause constipation

The most common medications known to cause constipation are:

  • Narcotic (opioid) pain drugs including codeine (Tylenol), oxycodone (Percocet), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Anticonvulsants including phenytoin (Dilantin) and carbamazepine (Tegretol) iron supplements
  • Calcium channel blocking drugs including diltiazem (Cardizem) and nifedipine (Procardia)
  • Antidepressants including amitriptyline (Elavil) and imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Aluminum-containing antacids including Amphojel and Basaljel
  • Aluminium antacids (medicine to treat indigestion)
  • Antiepileptics (medicine to treat epilepsy)
  • Antipsychotics (medicine to treat schizophrenia and other mental health conditions)
  • Calcium supplements
  • Diuretics (water tablets)
  • Iron supplements

Dairy Products

Some people suffer from constipation when they consume milk and other dairy products. This is possibly due to some form of intolerance to dairy since the majority of people don’t experience constipation when they consume these foods..

If you suffer from regular bouts of constipation, you could try to eliminate dairy from your diet for a little while and see if things improve.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) tend to be prone to constipation and suffer from bouts much more frequently than the rest of the population.

Pregnancy

The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can make a woman more susceptible to constipation. During pregnancy your body produces more of the hormone progesterone, which acts as a muscle relaxant.

The bowel moves stools to the anus by a process known as peristalsis. This is when the muscles lining the bowel contract and relax in a rippling motion. An increase in progesterone affects these muscular contractions, making it harder to move the stool along.

In the later stages of pregnancy the larger uterus may compress the intestine which causes the passage of food through the digestive system to be slower.

About two out of every five women experience constipation during their pregnancy.

Aging

As people age, their metabolism slows down, resulting in less intestinal activity which means that food has a slower transit time through the gut. At the same time the muscles in the digestive tract don’t work as effectively to move wastes along to the rectum.

Changes In Routine

Anything that disrupts your normal routine can lead to constipation. A big culprit is travel. For most people travel is stressful, and stress itself has a role to play in constipation. Other factors include different sleeping patterns, eating at different times, eating different foods than usual, not drinking enough fluid in order to avoid needing to use the toilet on the plane, or needing to make too many pit stops on a road trip.

Overuse Of Laxatives

In an attempt to produce a bowel movement every day some people take laxatives. Laxatives used as short term solution for constipation are really helpful, but using them over the long term allows the body to get used to them.

When laxatives are doing the work that the muscles in the digestive system should be doing, those muscles get lazy. Additionally over time the body becomes accustomed to the dose and greater amounts of laxatives need to be taken to produce a bowel movement.

When the laxatives are stopped, constipation usually results.

Some people also routinely take laxatives in an attempt to speed up the transit of food through the digestive system in order to lose weight. This is ill advised for a number of reasons and will compromise the healthy performance of the digestive system.

Not Going To The Toilet When Necessary

There are several reasons why people opt to hold off going to the toilet when they need to.

Some people have a strong aversion to using public restrooms and may prefer to hold on until they get home. Sometimes a restroom isn’t available, or you can’t take a break at work to go when you need to.

If piles are present, passing a motion can be painful and this can cause sufferers to hold back in an attempt to put off the uncomfortable event.

Holding a stool back means that it remains in the bowel for longer, and the longer it is there the drier and harder, and more difficult to pass  it will become.

Dehydration – Not Drinking Enough Water

Keeping your body hydrated greatly reduces the risk of constipation. Water is the best choice for a well hydrated body. If you routinely get most of your fluids from caffeinated drinks, coffee, tea, sodas, or energy drinks, then you may be in a constant state of mild dehydration because caffeine is a diuretic which causes you to produce more urine.

The same is true for soda without caffeine because soda contain sodium or salt which is another diuretic.

Drinking alcohol leads to dehydration. Alcohol makes you need to urinate more frequently because it affects the production of a hormone in your body that is responsible for regulating your ability to absorb fluids. Without this hormone you produce more urine and become dehydrated.

When constipation strikes, drinking lots of water may be enough to get things moving if you increase your fluid intake as soon as you notice that you have missed a bowel motion.

While you are constipated, you should avoid any dehydrating drinks which will only make things worse.

Problems Within The Colon Or Rectum

A number of factors can physically obstruct the stool and make passing it difficult.

Tumors within the bowel can restrict the space available, while tumors pressing the bowel from the outside can cause a narrowed passage. Other problems include adhesions (scar tissue), diverticulosis, and colorectal stricture (abnormal narrowing of the colon or rectum).

Also, those with a congenital condition called Hirschsprung disease are susceptible to constipation because some nerve cells are absent in the large intestine..

Other Diseases And Conditions That Cause Constipation

Some diseases can slow down the movement of feces through the colon and cause constipation. These include:

Neurological disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, and stroke.

Endocrine and metabolic conditions including, diabetes, uremia, hypercalcemia, blood sugar problems, and hypothyroidism.

Cancer, which can cause constipation due tumors blocking or pressing on the digestive system, or because of pain medications and chemotherapy.

Systemic diseases, which are diseases that affect the body as a whole or a number of organs and tissues, they include amyloidosis, lupus, and scleroderma.

Get Fast Relief From Constipation With Magnesium Citrate

Magnesium citrate is widely available in capsule, liquid or powder form from pharmacies and from online retailers. It is the laxative given in hospitals prior to surgical procedures to empty the bowel. It’s a very effective laxative and can work quickly (often within one hour) even when you’ve been constipated for some time.

High Dose Vitamin C Acts As A laxative

Taken in high enough doses vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can soften a stool and make it easy to pass. You’ll usually experience some diarrhea at the same time.

Your body doesn’t store vitamin C, so any vitamin C over and above your body’s short term needs will be excreted. Once vitamin C reaches the bowel, it alters the fluid exchange that takes place there, and increases the amount of water present which produces a laxative effect.

The amount of vitamin C that you’ll need to take depends on your own state of health.

If you’re unwell or under stress, your body will use a lot of vitamin C, and you can take very high doses without initiating a laxative effect.

The best thing to do is to begin with a 1000 mg dose, wait for half an hour and see if you can pass a stool. If not take 2000 mg, wait for half an hour and try again. You may find that you need 5000 mg or more in a single dose. One teaspoon holds about 5000 mg of vitamin C.

Don’t worry about taking too much. Vitamin C has no ill effect on the body other than the laxative effect.

You’ll get fair warning that it’s about to work because your guts will start gurgling. When this happens you might feel an urge to pass gas. Try not to let that happen until you are safely sitting on the toilet because you might pass more than you intended to!

You can buy vitamin C practically everywhere but the best form to use for large dose is ascorbic acid powder which you may need to get online or from a health food store.

Dissolve the powder in water and drink it down through a straw to protect your tooth enamel.

Olive Oil May Work to cure constipation

Sometimes taking a tablespoon of olive oil with some lemon juice can be a simple remedy that relieves constipation.

The oil moves to your bowel where it acts as a lubricant on the stool.

Take one tablespoon of olive oil mixed with one teaspoon of lemon juice on an empty stomach.

Prunes And Prune Juice Are A Classic Constipation Remedy

Prunes And Prune Juice Are A Classic Constipation Remedy

Prunes contain sorbitol which is a carbohydrate that the body can’t easily digest, meaning that most of it gets through to the bowel. Sorbitol holds onto water and softens stools making them easier to pass.

Drink 2 glasses of prune juice a day to relieve constipation. One first thing in the morning and another at night.

You can also eat prunes, and they make a great breakfast mixed with yogurt.

Try Squatting to help fight constipation

Sitting on the toilet is a completely unnatural position to adopt when it comes to passing a stool and it makes things more difficult. Our bodies preferred position for an easy and relaxed bowel movement is the squat.

You may have used squat toilets if you’ve travelled to eastern countries, and while they certainly seem bizarre, they are much better for healthy elimination.

You don’t need to install one of those weird looking toilets to benefit from squatting. If you’re agile enough, you can simply climb up onto your toilet, plant your feet on either side of the seat and squat.

For those less agile, you can take a low stool into the bathroom with you. Sit on the toilet as normal and rest your feet on the stool. The stool, when placed in front of the toilet should result in your knees being level with your chest.

When you sit on the toilet in the usual manner you rectum actually gets constricted which narrows the passage and makes it harder to poop without straining.

But when you squat to pass a motion, there is no restriction on the rectum, meaning that there is a lot more space for the stool to move through.

Often, simply adopting the correct position for defecation can be enough to shift a blockage, and it’s certainly worth considering if you suffer from constipation regularly.

If simple home treatments don’t work, you should see you doctor for a prescription laxative.

Prescription laxatives are of three basic types.

Bulk-forming laxatives

Your doctor will initially prescribe a bulk-forming laxative. These work by helping your stools to retain fluid which prevents them from drying out and becoming hard.

When taking a bulk-forming laxative, you need to drink plenty of fluids. It usually takes two to three days for these to work.

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Osmotic laxatives

This next type of laxative work by increasing the amount of fluid in your bowel. This softens the stool and also stimulates your bowels to open. Osmotic laxatives can work fairly quickly, but they can also take a few days to work.

Stimulant laxatives

If your stools are soft, but still difficult to pass, your constipation could be the result of lax muscle function, so your doctor may give you a stimulant laxative. These laxatives stimulate the muscles of the digestive tract and help them to move waste along.

These are usually fast acting laxatives which produce a bowel movement within 6 – 12 hours.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.