Roughly 16% of Americans suffer from constipation, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). For people over age 60, that number doubles.
Being constipated or having irregular bowel habits can result in lots of straining while you’re on the toilet, and over time, that means you can wind up with painful hemorrhoids, anal fissures, pelvic organ prolapse, or other problems. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to support bowel health and improve your bowel movements.
A trusted health care provider in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, has significant experience helping patients deal with constipation, dry stools, and other problems that can result in straining.
In this post, he offers seven tips that could help you.
1. Drink more water
Stool is about 75% water. The rest comprises bacteria, fiber, fat, protein, and dead cells from your digestive tract. If you don’t drink plenty of water, your stools can be dry and difficult to pass.
Drinking about eight glasses of water a day provides your body with the liquid it needs to keep your stool soft and easy to pass. Eight glasses is a general target; you may need more or less depending on underlying health issues, your weight or activity level, and other factors.
2. Focus on fiber-rich foods
Sometimes called roughage, fiber gives your stool bulk. It also absorbs moisture, helping your stool stay soft and easy to pass.
Fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens, cabbage, and broccoli), whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes are all good choices. Try to work in a salad once a day and reach for fruit or celery for a snack.
3. Be more active
Most of us know regular exercise is good for the heart, but it’s also good for your digestive system. When you exercise, food moves through your system more quickly, which means your stool retains more fluid, making it easier to pass.
Exercise may also stimulate the nerves that regulate your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Ideally, try to aim for a half hour of moderate activity each day.
4. Go, then go
Many people consider bathroom time a great opportunity to watch videos, listen to music, or read. But if you want to avoid straining and prevent side effects like hemorrhoids, it’s best to use the toilet and then get up rather than spend lots of time sitting.
5. Don’t ignore the urge to go
When your bowels tell you it’s time to use the bathroom, don’t ignore those signals. It might be tempting to put off using the bathroom if you’re involved in another activity. But doing so can interrupt your body’s natural “bathroom clock” and eventually lead to constipation.
6. Use a footstool
Maybe you’ve seen products that claim to improve your bowel habits simply by elevating your feet while you’re on the toilet. It sounds weird — but research shows it works.
When we sit normally on a toilet, we create a bend in the rectum. Elevating your feet helps straighten out the lower intestine and rectum, so stool can exit more efficiently. You don’t need to buy a special product — a low stool or stack of books can be a good substitute.
7. Ask about a stool softener
Stool softeners do just what their name implies: They help soften stools so they’re easier to pass. Stool softeners are available over the counter and by prescription.
These products work by helping your stool absorb more liquids and fats, preventing dry stool and making it easier to have a bowel movement. Unlike a laxative, they don’t increase the frequency of bowel movements, but they can help you avoid straining.
Medical evaluation is important
Lots of issues can lead to constipation or dry, hard stools. If you have chronic problems with your bowels, it’s important to have a medical evaluation to rule out serious conditions, including colorectal cancers.
To find out what’s causing your bowel problems — and how we can help — call 954-210-7127 or book an appointment online with Dr. Tarlowe today.