Why Middle-Age Women Should Worry About Constipation

by Dorian Martin Patient Advocate

Feeling constipated lately? You're not alone. In fact, this condition is common among older adults.

Constipation is marked by straining, having lumpy or hard stools, a feeling of incomplete evacuation of the bowels and/or a sensation of being blocked. However, frequency of having a bowel movement isn't always a good sign that you're constipated since some people have three bowel movements weekly while others have three movements a day. "In general, however, you're probably experiencing constipation if you pass fewer than three stools a week, and your stools are hard and dry," the Mayo Clinic stated.

The usual causes of constipation include little dietary fiber, inactivity, medications, lifestyle issues (such as travel), dehydration, overuse of laxatives, and ignoring the need to have a bowel movement. Then you add the changes in a woman's body at middle-age and you have additional reasons that your body might feel backed up. "Now, adding the aging factor that includes hormonal changes, aging liver, slower gut activity, stress, unhealthy lifestyle and worrying over menopause can further contribute to the complicated condition of constipation," Sutter Medical Foundation nurse practitioner Andrelyn Almario said.

Constipation usually can be relieved by through a number of tactics. These include:

  • Gradually increasing the amount of fiber in your food. Women should aim to consume at least 21-25 grams daily. Good sources of fiber include: raspberries (8 grams for 1 cup), pear with skin (5.5 grams), apple with skin (4.4 grams), bananas (3.1 grams), oranges (3.1 grams), strawberries (3 grams for one cup), cooked whole-wheat spaghetti (6.3 grams for one cup), cooked pearled barley (6 grams for
    1 cup), bran flakes (5.3 grams for
    ¾ cups), oat bran muffin (5.2 grams for 1 medium muffin), cooked instant oatmeal (4 grams for 1 cup), air-popped popcorn (3.5 grams for 1 cup), cooked brown rice (3.5 grams for 1 cup), cooked split peas (16.3 grams or 1 cup), cooked lentils (15.6 grams for 1 cup), cooked black beans (13.2 grams for 1 cup), cooked baked beans (10.4 grams for 1 cup), sunflower seed kernels (3.9 grams for
    ¼ cup), almonds (3.5 grams for 23 nuts), cooked artichoke (10.3 grams), cooked green peas (8.8 grams for 1 cup), boiled broccoli (5.1 grams for 1 cup), boiled turnip greens (5 grams for 1 cup), cooked Brussels sprouts (4.1 grams for 1 cup), cooked sweet corn (4 grams for 1 cup) and baked potato with skin (3 grams).

  • Drinking more liquid. The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking plenty of noncaffeinated fluids.

  • Taking 1-2 tablespoons of fiber supplements that contain psyllium or methylcellulose daily.

  • Staying physically active.

  • Using the bathroom when your body tells you it's time.

  • Trying massage. Massage can help relax the muscles that support both the bladder and the intestines. This manipulation helps encourage bowel activity.

  • Trying acupuncture. This traditional Chinese medicine has some procedures that are believed to stimulate the colon and ease the pain of constipation. However, researchers have not proved the efficacy of these techniques.

  • Taking osmotic laxatives.

  • Taking stool softeners, which can take 1-2 days or more to work.

  • Taking stimulants, which should be used under supervision of a doctor.

If these steps don't work and you remain constipated for more than three weeks (or if you have a persistent problem), talk to your doctor about possible treatments. These can include medications such as lubiprostone and linaclotide. These medications may help with chronic constipation, but also have side effects such as nausea, headache and diarrhea. The long-term effects of taking these medications also are not known. Another possibility that the doctor may prescribe is biofeedback therapy, which involves training you how to control the muscles necessary for bowel movements.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Almario, A. (nd). Question & Answer.

Mayo Clinic. (2012). Chart of high-fiber foods.

Mayo Clinic. (2011). Constipation.

Mayo Clinic. (2013). Laxatives: Making sense of choices. Mayo Clinic Helath Letter.

Dorian Martin
Meet Our Writer
Dorian Martin

Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.