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5 Things We All Get Wrong About Constipation

Constipation is an extremely common albeit uncomfortable digestive issue to discuss. The condition occurs when stool takes longer to pass through the GI tract. This is often accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, stomach cramps, abdominal pain, straining, and painful bowel movements. It’s safe to assume that everyone has experienced it at one point in life, and about 15 percent of the world population is believed to live with chronic constipation.
Although many dismiss or choose to self-treat chronic constipation because they do not believe it to be a “serious” health condition, it can ultimately have a negative impact on your quality of life. If you suffer from occasional or chronic constipation, beware of these 5 dangerous misconceptions linked to this health condition.

Myth 1: Increasing your fiber intake always relieves constipation.

Constipation Myths apples

While it is true that a low-fiber diet can contribute to constipation, the symptoms can also appear in individuals who get enough fiber. In some cases, increasing the intake of fiber or taking fiber supplements can help add bulk to the stool and speed up digestion, but in others, fiber can make things worse.

For example, individuals suffering from slow-transit constipation often find that their symptoms get worse when they consume more fiber. In these patients, the passage of stool through the large intestine is slowed down due to reduced gut motility, and the extra bulk created by fiber can make it more challenging to move the stool through the large intestine.

If you notice that adding fiber exacerbates your symptoms, consider other dietary changes (like drinking more water) or exercising more.

Related Article: How Much Fiber Is Too Much? Signs of Excess Fiber Intake

Myth 2: If you don’t have a bowel movement every day, you’re constipated.

Constipation Myths toilet paper

Although many people indeed have one bowel movement (BM) a day, there is no “gold standard” when it comes to BM frequency. Medical professionals say that going anywhere between 3 times a day and 3 times a week falls within the normal range. As long as you don’t experience any uncomfortable symptoms, skipping a few days between BMs is fine.

So when is an individual considered constipated? Having fewer than 3 BMs per week is a symptom of constipation, and having fewer than 1 BM per week is a sign of severe constipation.

Myth 3: You’re constipated because you don’t exercise enough.

Constipation Myths tired woman next to yoga mat
Generally speaking, exercise does improve gut motility. So if you’re suffering from this condition and you rarely work out, more physical activity can indeed help you manage constipation. However, exercise is not a cure-all for constipation, and it’s rarely, if ever, the root cause of the issue.
For instance, studies show that exercise doesn’t help relieve constipation in kids. Therefore, multiple health factors, such as medications, underlying health conditions, and even stress must be considered and adjusted when treating constipation.

Myth 4: All constipation medications cause dependency.

Constipation Myths woman holding medication

A wide range of OTC and prescription medications are used to treat constipation. Although all of them work in different ways, these medications are known as laxatives. However, not all laxatives are made equal. Some of these medications, such as bulk-forming laxatives (also known as fiber supplements) and stool softeners (also known as emollient laxatives) are considered very gentle and safe to use long-term. Medications like Metamucil, Citrucel, Colace, and Surfak fall within these two categories. 

However, these milder medications are not effective for all forms of constipation, and some patients may require medications that stimulate the intestines in order to pass stool. Although many of these medications are available over the counter, it’s best to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking these medications, as taking them improperly can make you build up a tolerance or make you unable to pass stools on your own according to Mayo Clinic.

Related Article: 7 Foods That Relieve Constipation the Natural Way

Myth 5: Constipation is a normal part of aging.

Constipation Myths older woman with a stomachache

This misconception stems from the correct observation that many older adults suffer from constipation. However, there is inherent in aging that causes constipation. So why do older adults suffer from constipation more often than younger people? A low-fiber diet, a sedentary lifestyle, underlying health conditions, and certain medications all increase the risk of constipation. And since elderly individuals are more likely to fall within the above-listed categories, they also have a higher risk of experiencing constipation.

As a final note, it’s important to point out that constipation can affect people of any age. Although not serious and temporary in many cases, constipation should not be ignored. If you or a loved one is suffering from constipation, don’t hesitate to seek medical help.

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