Tips and Strategies to Avoid Constipation

Many people are inconvenienced by constipation, and if you have trouble going to the bathroom, you know first hand the struggles it can entail. J. Timothy Tolland, M.D., a board-certified colon and rectal surgeon at the Colon & Rectal Surgery Associates, cares for constipation patients every day and knows the strategies needed to prevent it. Read on for some tips to avoid constipation.

“Constipation is one of two things,” says Dr. Tolland. “Either it’s hard stool that is large, or not being able to go very often. I have patients that move their bowels only once a week. This is very distressing to patients, and they go through a lot to try and fix it.”

The average adult diet lacks fluid and fiber which are critical components for regular and proper bowel movements. Combined with increased time being spent on the couch and less time exercising, it’s no wonder that constipation is on the rise.

Constipation is the most common digestive complaint, and most people experience constipation-like symptoms at least one time in their lives. Studies show that over 15% of adults and 33% of adults over age 60 suffer from chronic constipation, numbers that doubled between 1997 and 2010. As life expectancy continues to increase, the prevalence of constipation is expected to rise as well.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Dehydration is a significant cause of chronic constipation. The food we eat gets processed from the stomach through the colon. Therefore, you need to make sure you are drinking lots of water. If you aren’t drinking enough water, the large intestine will soak up liquid from your food making your stools extra firm and hard to pass.

However, when you keep yourself properly hydrated, more water stays in the colon keeping your stool soft and easy to pass. “I tell my patients the number one thing you can do is to drink plenty of fluids, especially in Florida,” says Dr. Tolland. “You get dehydrated easily, and if you drink plenty of fluids, it will help you.”

Fiber Is Key

One of the best ways to avoid constipation might just be on your grocery store shelves. Dozens of foods are available that contain high amounts of fiber. Fiber exists in all fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds, and is essential for adding bulk to your stool to help it pass more easily.

According to Dr. Tolland, most people don’t get enough fiber in their diet. “We’re meat eaters in this country, and it’s very important to get an adequate amount of fruits, vegetables, and cereals,” he says. “I tell people to try and get 25 grams of fiber a day.”

Foods high in fiber include:

  • Artichoke
  • Lentils
  • Black beans
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Raspberries
  • Peanuts
  • Lima beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Barley
  • Pears
  • Avocados
  • Blackberries

“If you’re like most people and you don’t change the way you eat, then I recommend taking a fiber supplement like Metamucil, or Citrucel,” says Dr. Tolland. “A powdered fiber supplement that gives you five grams in one or two tablespoons a day, combined with sufficient fluid intake,  will make your bowels more regular, more often, and less big and hard, and difficult to pass.”

Everyone Is Different

According to Dr. Tolland, how often you go is not a measure of whether you have a problem or not, and many people worry needlessly about the frequency of their bowel movements. In fact, 95% of adults have bowel movements between three and twenty-one times per week.

“We all think you should go once a day,” says Dr. Tolland. “That’s probably the average in the bell curve, but you have people that are pretty normal, that go every three days, and then you those that go three times a day. That’s all normal, and I don’t try to change people’s habits, as long as they’re comfortable with them.”

“If you’re comfortable with how you’re going, and you’re not tearing yourself up, or having a lot of pain, straining, and distress, and you go every three days? Fine. If you go three times a day, every time you eat? Fine. But if you’re having distress, and you’re outside of that bell curve especially, then I would seek attention and talk to someone like me.”

Dr. Tolland stresses that much of the confusion and anxiety around constipation is due to a lack of proper information. That’s why talking to your colon and rectal physician is critical to put your mind and body at ease.

“(When you come in), we’ll sit down and do the easy things first,” says Dr. Tolland. “We don’t start by testing this and that unless it’s mandatory and you’re past your dates. For the most part, we try the easy things first for a week or two. Many times I have patients call back, just to let me know how they’re doing. If they’re doing great, I document it in their chart, and we move on from there.”

“If you’re still having problems, then we may tweak some things over the phone rather than have you run into the office all the time. But we develop a plan when I first see you, on how we’re going to approach the problem. And then, of course, there are medications and stronger things such as laxatives, chemicals, and stimulants that we need to use for some folks.”

If you are suffering from constipation or similar symptoms and would like to learn more about how you can take control of the situation, please feel free to contact us

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