Many people wrongly assume that they are constipated because they don't have a daily bowel movement.
In fact, it's perfectly normal for bowels to move as often as three times a day or as infrequently as once in 3 or 4 days. The important factors are regularity and easy passage of a reasonably soft but well-formed stool.
There are two types of constipation: atonic occurs when the colon muscles are weak and lack tone; spastic (sometimes called irritable bowel syndrome) is characterized by irregular bowel movements. Atonic constipation, the more common of the two, develops when the diet lacks adequate fluids and fiber; a sedentary lifestyle is another common cause.
Spastic constipation can be caused by stress, nervous disorders, excessive smoking, irritating foods, and obstructions of the colon.
Adults should drink 8 glasses of nonalcoholic fluids every day. When a low-fibre diet coincides with a low fluid intake, the stool becomes dry and hard, and increasingly difficult to move through the intestinal tract.
Regular physical activity helps to stimulate bowel movements, whereas prolonged inactivity can cause constipation.
Several medications, especially codeine and other narcotic painkillers, reduce peristalsis, the rhythmic muscle movements that push digested food through the bowel.
Poor toilet habits, such as putting off going to the toilet despite an urge to defecate, can also cause constipation.
Excessive laxative use reduces normal colon function. If a laxative is needed, one made of psyllium or another high-fibre stool softener is probably the best choice.
Recipe for Relief
Increasing intake of dietary fibre, especially the insoluble type that absorbs water but otherwise passes through the bowel intact, is instrumental in pre-venting constipation.
Whenever possible, try to use the whole vegetable; fiber tends to be concentrated in the peelings, stems, and outer leaves- parts that many cooks discard.
But any increase in high-fibre food consumption should be gradual and accompanied by more fluids to help prevent bloating arid flatulence.
Avoid the temptation to add bran to foods-this can cause uncomfortable gas and bloating; it also reduces the absorption of iron, calcium, and other minerals. Instead, try an ounce or two of prunes or dried figs.
Consume Plenty of
Fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and other high-fibre foods.
Fluids (at least 8 glasses a day).
Cut Down on
Sugar and refined starchy foods.
Any foods that provoke constipation.
The Problem of Haemorrhoids
Chronic constipation, obesity, pregnancy, and an inherited pre-disposition are common causes of haemorrhoids-varicose veins in the anal area.
Most haemorrhoids are symptom-free, but some cause itching, pain, and bleeding, especially during bouts of constipation.
Straining to pass a hard stool can rupture one of the distended veins and result in considerable bleeding; more often, the stool contains small amounts of bright red blood.
The blood loss itself is usually inconsequential, but any rectal bleeding should prompt medical investigation to rule out colon cancer or polyps.
Avoiding constipation and maintaining a normal weight will often eliminate haemorrhoid symptoms.
Some sufferers find that curries, chilies, and other hot, spicy foods increase discomfort during bowel movements; citrus fruits and other acidic foods may also be irritating.
In severe cases, chronic blood loss from hemorrhoids can cause anaemia; a doctor may prescribe iron supplements and removal of the haemorrhoids. Eating iron-rich foods can help restore the body's iron reserves.
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