Article provided by the National Digestive Diseases
How is constipation treated?
Although treatment depends on the cause, severity, and duration,
in most cases dietary and lifestyle changes will help relieve
symptoms of constipation and help prevent it.
Constipation Treatment: Diet
A diet with enough fiber (20 to 35 grams each day) helps form
soft, bulky stool. A doctor or dietitian can help plan an
appropriate diet. High-fiber foods include beans, whole grains
and bran cereals, fresh fruits, and vegetables such as
asparagus, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and carrots. For people
prone to constipation, limiting foods that have little or no
fiber, such as ice cream, cheese, meat, and processed foods, is
Constipation Treatment: Lifestyle Changes
Other changes that can help treat and prevent constipation
include drinking enough water and other liquids such as fruit
and vegetable juices and clear soups, engaging in daily
exercise, and reserving enough time to have a bowel movement. In
addition, the urge to have a bowel movement should not be
Constipation Treatment: Laxatives
Most people who are mildly constipated do not need laxatives.
However, for those who have made diet and lifestyle changes and
are still constipated, doctors may recommend laxatives or enemas
for a limited time. These treatments can help retrain a
chronically sluggish bowel. For children, short-term treatment
with laxatives, along with retraining to establish regular bowel
habits, also helps prevent constipation.
A doctor should determine when a patient needs a laxative and
which form is best. Laxatives taken by mouth are available in
liquid, tablet, gum, powder, and granule forms. They work in
Bulk-forming laxatives generally are considered the safest but
can interfere with absorption of some medicines. These
laxatives, also known as fiber supplements, are taken with
water. They absorb water in the intestine and make the stool
softer. Brand names include Metamucil, Citrucel, Konsyl, and
Stimulants cause rhythmic muscle contractions in the intestines.
Brand names include Correctol, Dulcolax, Purge, and Senokot.
Studies suggest that phenolphthalein, an ingredient in some
stimulant laxatives, might increase a person's risk for cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a ban on all
over-the-counter products containing phenolphthalein. Most
laxative makers have replaced or plan to replace phenolphthalein
with a safer ingredient.
Stool softeners provide moisture to the stool and prevent
dehydration. These laxatives are often recommended after
childbirth or surgery. Products include Colace and Surfak.
Lubricants grease the stool enabling it to move through the
intestine more easily. Mineral oil is the most common example.
Saline laxatives act like a sponge to draw water into the colon
for easier passage of stool. Laxatives in this group include
Milk of Magnesia and Haley's M-O.
People who are dependent on laxatives need to slowly stop using
them. A doctor can assist in this process. In most people, this
restores the colon's natural ability to contract.
Other Constipation Treatments
Treatment may be directed at a specific cause. For example, the
doctor may recommend discontinuing medication or performing
surgery to correct an anorectal problem such as rectal prolapse.
People with chronic constipation caused by anorectal dysfunction
can use biofeedback to retrain the muscles that control release
of bowel movements. Biofeedback involves using a sensor to
monitor muscle activity that at the same time can be displayed
on a computer screen, allowing for an accurate assessment of
body functions. A health care professional uses this information
to help the patient learn how to use these muscles.
Surgical removal of the colon may be an option for people with
severe symptoms caused by colonic inertia. However, the benefits
of this surgery must be weighed against possible complications,
which include abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Additional Constipation Information
Causes of Constipation