You’ve been feeling a bit uncomfortable, bloated, and heavy. You’re not “going” as often as you should, and you’re getting worried. Don’t be embarrassed. Even though this is typically a private matter, you have plenty of company. Being a woman increases your risk of constipation, and more than four million U.S. women deal with chronic constipation.
Why do I Feel Constipated?
This may have to do with the slower movement of food through a woman’s intestines, as well as with the effects of female hormones on the GI tract. If you’re constipated, it’s often because there isn’t enough water in your stool.
You experience constipation when your stools are dry, hard, and small, making them painful and difficult to pass and you have three or fewer bowel movements in a week. Some women naturally have a bowel movement a few times a day, while others go just a few times a week. Because each woman is different, unless you’re going to the bathroom a lot less often than usual, you probably don’t need constipation treatments.
Constipation Help – Start with the Basics
So what do you do when you just can’t go? Don’t grab the laxatives just yet. Let’s first figure out what’s causing your symptoms. Increasing fiber can make stools bulkier and softer so they’re easier to pass. Try increasing your fiber to at least 25 grams. Good fiber sources include whole grains, vegetables, fresh or dried fruits, and beans.
To alleviate constipation, you could also
- Avoid foods that are high in fat and low in fiber, like cheese and other dairy products, white bread, tea and coffee, processed foods, and meat.
- Try to drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day.
- Exercise several times a week. Move your body, and your bowels will likely start moving too.
- Try sitting on a lower toilet or place your feet on a low stool. A bathroom posture of squatting might also help eliminate the waste.
When Are Laxatives All Right to Use?
If your constipation isn’t improved with water, fiber, and exercise, you could try laxatives. However, see your physician for long-term constipation as over-using laxatives can lead to dependence, and your body won’t be able to process food without them. Your doctor will help you know if a medical condition such as an underactive thyroid, depression, or medicine such as sedatives, antihistamines, and high blood pressure medicine is causing constipation.
When Do I Need to See a Doctor?
Call your doctor if you have blood in your stools, cramps, or rectal bleeding. You should also tell your doctor if you have constipation that lasts longer than seven days even though you’re using laxatives. If you are dependent on laxatives, ask your doctor how to gradually reduce your use and restore your colon’s ability to eliminate waste on its own.