Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Student
How often do you visit the washroom? Once a day? Every other day?
Not everyone is comfortable talking about their bowel movements, especially when constipation is an issue. But the truth is, many of us have experienced constipation before and may have needed to seek some help. Unfortunately, the stomach-care aisle at your pharmacy is likely filled with hundreds of products you can pick from, and it can be overwhelming. Being embarrassed about your situation, you may have just picked whatever caught your attention and gave it a try. If this is the case, we’re here to guide you through the different options that are available and assist you in choosing the one that would best suit your needs.
What is constipation?1,2
Constipation, by definition, is when a person experiences unsatisfactory defecation characterized by two or more of the following:
- lumpy or hard stools
- feeling of incomplete evacuation
- feeling of obstruction or blockage
- manually facilitating defecation
- less than three bowel movements per week
Additionally, the above symptoms must be present in the absence of laxatives, and be present for the past three months, with the onset being over six months ago.
While above is the medical definition of constipation, one can’t deny the discomfort associated with any change in bowel pattern. One thing to note is that not defecating on a daily basis isn’t considered constipation, unless this is your regular bowel pattern.
What causes constipation?1
Constipation can be caused by many things, including medications, medical conditions, and changes in lifestyle. Primarily, there are two types of constipation: idiopathic (or primary) and secondary constipation.
Primary, or idiopathic, constipation is when one experiences constipation due to:
- functional reasons, such as chronic idiopathic constipation or constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome,
- slow or delayed transit of bowel movements, or
- outlet dysfunction, such as anal stricture, prolapse, or pelvic floor dysfunction.
Secondary constipation, on the other hand, may be due to diet, lifestyle, pregnancy, advanced age, medications, or other medical conditions.
If you find yourself constipated, it could be helpful to note if you have made any changes to your routine recently. When it’s related to a medication or medical condition, it’s important that you talk to your healthcare provider for further assistance.
When should I seek a healthcare provider?2
It’s important to note a few signs that could mean you or your loved one is experiencing something more serious than constipation. If any of these characteristics apply, it’s important to seek a healthcare provider as soon as possible:
- Age less than 2 years
- Constipated for more than 2 weeks, despite using laxatives
- Blood or mucus in stool
- Older than 50 years old, with a family history of colon cancer
- Constant stomach ache, or pain when passing stool
- Alternating between diarrhea and constipation
- Recent stomach surgery
Are there ways to prevent constipation?2
There are several measures you can take to prevent future episodes of constipation. One of the easiest changes you can make is to gradually increase the amount of fibre in your diet (target: 25-38g/day) by consuming more fruits and vegetables. It’s important to gradually increase your intake as a sudden increase can actually cause constipation.
Also, staying well-hydrated is a big factor in regulating your bowel movements; check out our article on drinking water to see if you’re getting enough in a day.
Lastly, you should always avoid holding the urge to defecate, and stick to a regular bowel routine as much as possible.
Constipation can be an embarrassing topic to bring up, but remember your healthcare providers are always there to provide you with the best recommendation possible. Feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com if you have any concerns or questions. We would be more than happy to hear from you.
- DynaMed Plus