7 Tips for Treating Constipation

The problem

For most adults, constipation, or difficulty emptying the bowels, isn’t a serious problem. Left untreated, though, the condition can significantly affect quality of life and lead to complications such as hemorrhoids, anal tears or fissures, rectal prolapse (when the intestinal lining pushes out of the anus), or fecal impaction (when a dense mass of stool obstructs the bowel).

However, lifestyle and dietary changes can go a long way in preventing and treating constipation. Here are some to try.

1. Listen to your body

Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement or delay a trip to the bathroom.

2. Increase fiber in your diet

To avoid bloating and gas, gradually increase your fiber intake to 20 to 25 grams a day by consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, prune juice, whole-wheat grains, unprocessed bran, and legumes. You can also try a fiber supplement, such as psyllium.

3. Stay hydrated

Aim for at least eight cups of water a day. A warm, preferably caffeinated, beverage in the morning can help promote a bowel movement.

4. Exercise regularly

Activities such as walking or riding a bike for as little as 15 to 30 minutes daily can help.

5. Time it right

Optimal times are first thing in the morning when the bowel is more active and 30 minutes after meals, which can trigger gastrocolic reflex—a response to food entering the stomach, which increases movement in the intestines.

6. Consider a laxative

Many over-the-counter laxatives can treat the problem, but most are recommended for short-term use only. Suppositories and enemas generally aren’t meant for everyday constipation. Research is limited on the effectiveness of stool softeners.

7. Another option

Your doctor may prescribe linaclotide (Linzess) or lubiprostone (Amitiza) for constipation that doesn’t respond to other treatments. Movantik (naloxegol) may be an option to combat opioid-induced constipation.

Meet Our Writer

HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into Healthcentral.com in 2018.