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How To Treat Constipation In Yourself Or Your Child

What You Need To Know About Treating Constipation

Dr. Antonietta D'Urso Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Antonietta D'Urso on October 5, 2021

Medically reviewed by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology

Whether it affects you or your child, occasional constipation can stop your whole family in its tracks. Constipation is especially common in children of all ages, with nearly one out of every 20 visits to a pediatrician occurring as a result of the condition.

Constipation can occur for a few reasons, such as a result of changes to your daily routine, or even as a symptom of a larger medical problem, but regardless everyone wants to find relief for constipation as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, some commercially available treatments for constipation can contain cheap inactive ingredients that could end up making you feel even worse.

If you’re wondering how to treat constipation in yourself or your child, you’ll want to consider clean medicine alternatives in addition to lifestyle changes.

What is constipation?

Constipation is a common condition that occurs when people have difficulty passing stools and begin to have less frequent bowel movements.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, constipation is one of the most common digestive issues in the United States, causing more than 2.5 million people to visit their doctor each year and millions more to seek over the counter relief for the condition. Constipation can affect people of all ages, including both adults and children.

Although constipation is technically defined as having bowel movements less than three times a week, the definition varies depending on the normal frequency of bowel movements for each person.

For example, some people may have bowel movements multiple times per day while other people only have bowel movements one to two times per week.

Constipation occurs when people deviate from their normal pattern to have significantly fewer bowel movements than usual.

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • Dry, hard, or lumpy stools
  • Bowel movements that are painful
  • Stools that are difficult to pass
  • A feeling that your bowels are not completely empty
  • Bloated or nauseous feeling
  • Stomach ache or cramps
  • Bowel movements that occur fewer than three times per week

While constipation can happen to anyone at any time, some people are more likely to experience constipation than others and may experience the condition more frequently.

Groups of people considered at risk of chronic constipation include:

  • Females. Women are more likely to experience constipation than men because of changes in their hormones that occur throughout the month and during major bodily changes like pregnancy, menopause, and the post-partum period. During pregnancy, the growing baby can compress the intestines, which makes it difficult for stool to pass.
  • Age. Older people are more likely to experience constipation because they are less active and typically have a slower rate of metabolism. Older people also have weaker muscles, including the muscles of the digestive tract, which make it more difficult to pass stools. At the other end of the spectrum, young children are more likely to experience constipation because of picky eating habits (low vegetable intake and high carbohydrate intake), insufficient water intake, and behavioral issues (such as stool withholding).

What causes constipation?

There are many different reasons why constipation can occur. The causes of constipation typically fall into three different categories, including medical conditions, lifestyle choices, and medications.

Medical Conditions

Medical conditions that are known to cause constipation include:

  • Post-infectious slowing of gut motility
  • Endocrine disorders, such as thyroid disease and diabetes
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Certain types of pelvic floor dysfunction
  • Gut motility disorders
  • Structural defects in the digestive system, such as fistula
  • Pregnancy
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Diverticulitis and other diverticular diseases
  • Neurological problems, such as Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, stroke, or multiple sclerosis
  • Multiple organ diseases, such as lupus or scleroderma

As a result, you may need to seek medical attention in severe cases if you experience the following:

  • Anal fissure: Tears in the lining of your anus from hardened stool trying to pass through
  • Rectal prolapse: Part of the rectum sticks out through the anus.

Lifestyle Choices

Lifestyle choices can also play a big role in causing constipation.

Common lifestyle choices that are known to cause constipation include:

  • Eating a diet that does not contain enough fiber
  • Not getting enough exercise or activity throughout the day
  • Undergoing changes to your daily routine, such as eating different foods, going to bed at a different time, or changing time zones as a result of traveling
  • Experiencing stress
  • Dehydration
  • Eating larger than normal servings of dairy products such as milk or cheese
  • Avoiding having a bowel movement when you need to go

Medications

Many medications list constipation as a common side effect.

  • Drugs that are commonly known to cause constipation include:
  • Narcotic pain medications and opioid drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, or codeine
  • Antidepressant medications, particularly tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Iron supplements
  • Blood pressure medications, including calcium channel blockers like diltiazem (Cardizem) and beta-blockers like atenolol (Tenormin)
  • Anticonvulsant/seizure medications, such as gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Antacid medications that contain ingredients like calcium or aluminum
  • Psychiatric medications
  • Antinausea drugs, such as Zofran

What are your options for treating constipation?

No matter what the cause of your constipation, there’s no question that the condition can be uncomfortable and inconvenient at best and excruciatingly painful at worst. The condition is particularly difficult to treat in children who may not be able to fully understand what is happening.

If you or your child is experiencing mild to moderate constipation, the first steps to relieve the pain start at home. Self-care options for treating constipation include:

  • One of the most effective "home remedies" is simply changing your eating habits and increasing the amount of fiber in your diet. A common cause of constipation is a diet that does not include enough fiber. Fiber increases the bulk and weight of your stool and makes it easier to pass. Foods that have high grams of fiber include whole grains, whole cereals, fruits, vegetables, and more.
  • Having better bowel habits. Essentially this means addressing your bowel movements when you need to. It seems like a simple fix, but simply taking the time to have a bowel movement when you feel the urge can help to relieve feelings of constipation. While it can be difficult to encourage a child to have a bowel movement, particularly for young children who have a fear about bowel movements, you can encourage them to have bowel movement by giving the child plenty of time and not rushing them.
  • Increasing your activity. Many people experiencing constipation do not get much physical activity. Increasing your daily activity and incorporating more exercise into your day to day routine increases muscle activity in your digestive tract and helps to move stool along more quickly.
  • Drinking more water. Cases of constipation often occur as a result of dehydration. Drinking more fluids throughout the day and increasing your intake of foods with a high water content, such as fruits and vegetables can help.

If making lifestyle changes doesn’t resolve your constipation or you need quicker relief, laxatives may be able to help. However, not all laxatives are created equally, and some can contain harsh ingredients and cause unpleasant side effects.

Different types of laxatives include:

  • Stimulants: Stimulant laxatives cause your intestines to contract, helping stool to move through your digestive tract more quickly. These include well known commercial laxatives like Dulcolax and Senokot.
  • Lubricants: Lubricants include natural substances like mineral oil that help lubricate the stool for easier movement.
  • Fiber supplements: As noted above, adding more fiber to your diet can help you relieve constipation. Fiber supplements allow you to do that more quickly and include supplements like Metamucil or Fibercon.
  • Osmotics: Osmotics include products like Milk of Magnesia and Miralax. These treatments work by increasing the secretion of fluid from the intestines to help stimulate bowel movements.
  • Stool softeners: Stool softeners increase the moisture content in the stool by drawing water from the intestines into the stool. Examples include Colace.

Unfortunately, commercial laxatives often contain commonly used artificial inactive ingredients that may contain harsh chemicals or additives.

Are there any clean medicine options for the treatment of constipation in adults and children?

Commercial laxatives use active ingredients that can be highly effective for the treatment of constipation in adults and children. However, they may also contain cheap inactive ingredients that may contain harsh chemicals or additives that cause uncomfortable side effects.

Adults who need the relief offered by a laxative but are looking for a clean alternative without the junk and synthetic inactive ingredients do have options, especially products taking advantage of the gentle laxative effect of senna leaves paired with other clean ingredients.

Children can also benefit from taking a clean laxative for constipation, but they need to have a lower dose of the active ingredient that is appropriate for their age and weight, i.e. a laxative specially formulated for kids. Furthermore, constipation in children can be harder to treat and may require maintenance laxative regimens because it is difficult to change a child’s eating, drinking, and behavioral habits. Talk to your pediatrician to come up with an optimal treatment plan.

Summary

Constipation is uncomfortable and inconvenient for adults and kids alike. While it can happen to anyone, occasional constipation doesn’t have to be inevitable and it doesn’t have to last forever. By making lifestyle changes and using clean laxatives, you can find relief from occasional constipation wherever your day takes you.



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