Myth. Everyone is different. Some people go three times a day; others, three times a week. It's common to have a bowel movement once a day. But it's OK to go a few days without one as long as you feel fine. If you have fewer than three per week, you're constipated. It's severe if you have fewer than one a week.
Myth. Some people believe that constipation causes the body to absorb poisonous substances in stools, leading to diseases such as arthritis, asthma, and colon cancer. There's no evidence that the stools produce toxins or that colon cleansing, laxatives, or enemas can prevent cancer or other diseases. And constipation itself isn't a disease.
Myth. It's true that most people fall short, so it's probably a good idea to eat more veggies, fruits, whole grains, and other plant foods -- and drink more water. Add fiber gradually, so your body gets used to it. If you're still constipated after that, there could be other reasons, like a medical condition or a side effect from some medicines.
Fact. It's true, but only in rare cases, and mostly in little kids who don't know better. Sometimes downing large amounts of gum or many pieces in a short time can form a mass that blocks the digestive tract, especially if you swallow it with other indigestible things like seeds. The blockage can cause constipation. But for most people, gum moves through, and out of, your body just like other foods do.
Fact. Travel changes your daily routine and diet. While you're away, drink plenty of water -- bottled, if you can't drink the tap water at your destination. Stay active, too. Walk while you wait for your flight, and stretch your legs on a road trip. Limit alcohol, and eat fruits and vegetables -- preferably cooked, if you need to avoid salads or raw items in the area you visit.
Fact. Depression may trigger constipation or make it worse. Reducing stress through meditation, yoga, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques helps. Acupressure or shiatsu massage could, too. Massaging your belly relaxes the muscles that support the intestines, which could help you become more regular.
Myth. Do you feel too busy at work to go? Ignoring the urge may make you physically uncomfortable, and it can cause or worsen constipation. Some people find it helps to set aside time after breakfast or another meal for a bowel movement, when these signals are strongest. But no matter when nature calls, answer.
Fact. Some drugs for pain, depression, high blood pressure, and Parkinson's disease are linked to constipation. Tell your doctor what's going on. You may be able to take something else. Calcium and iron supplements, especially if you also take something else that affects your stool, can also cause problems.
Myth. There are two kinds. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps it pass through your intestines faster. Good sources are whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereal. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. It's in beans, peas, and some other plant foods.
Fact. This small, dried fruit has earned a big reputation as "nature's remedy" for constipation. Prunes (also called dried plums) are rich in insoluble fiber, as well as the natural laxative sorbitol. Children who don't like them might eat prune juice ice pops or sip prune juice mixed with another juice to hide the taste.
Fact. Getting enough water keeps your stools soft and eases constipation. You can get it from drinks or water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can lead to dehydration.
Fact. Too much downtime makes constipation more likely. After you eat a big meal, wait at least an hour before you exercise so your body has time to digest your food. Then get going! Take a 10-to-15-minute walk several times a day. Harder workouts are also fine to do. Your whole body will benefit.
Myth. It's true that the caffeine can stimulate the muscles in your digestive system to contract, causing a bowel movement. But because caffeine is dehydrating, it's not recommended. So if you're constipated, avoid it or choose decaf.
Myth. Enemas and colon irrigation (high colonics) remove body waste. But they're not an effective way to prevent or cure constipation. Enemas can actually cause constipation for older people who get them regularly. Colonic irrigation, which is usually done by colonic hygienists or therapists, can damage the colon and lead to other problems. Talk to your doctor first.
Myth. It depends on the type. A suppository or enema might work within an hour. A bulk-forming product may take several days; a stimulant one, a few hours. Don't use them for too long, or they could cause other digestive problems. Constipation usually lasts a few days. Talk to your doctor if you need to use laxatives for more than 2 weeks.
Fact. They prevent constipation by allowing stools to absorb more water from the colon. Softer stools are easier to pass. Like other laxatives, you should only use them for a short time.
Myth. This powerful laxative is an old-school remedy. But ask your doctor first. Like other laxatives, you shouldn't use it for long, or it can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients and some drugs. If you overdo it, that can damage your bowel muscles, nerves, and tissue -- which can cause constipation.
Myth. Older people are more likely to become constipated. But it's not a normal part of aging, and it can also happen when you're younger. It's very common and usually doesn't last long, and most cases aren't serious. But tell your doctor if it doesn't ease up when you eat more fiber, drink more water, and get more exercise.
Myth. Blood in a bowel movement is not always serious. But you should call your doctor ASAP if it happens. Bright red blood is usually from hemorrhoids or tears in the anal lining called fissures. Constipation and straining during bowel movements can cause it. Maroon or tarry black blood or clots often means bleeding is coming from higher in your digestive system.
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