Last updated: September 6, 2020

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How regularly we go to the bathroom isn’t generally a topic of discussion that comes up during family dinners. Most of us even find it difficult to discuss these problems during medical consultations, which prevents us from having the tools to improve our quality of life.

If you are constipated, know that you are not alone. In fact, around 15 to 20% of Americans have symptoms of constipation, with up to 33% in adults over the age of 60! If you want to learn everything there is to know about this condition and how to deal with it, keep reading our new guide.

Key Facts

  • Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from constipation; the frequency increases progressively in both genders from the age of 60 onward.
  • It is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom that could indicate that something is off balance in your body or your environment.
  • People suffering from this symptom report a significant decline in their quality of life.

Our Selection: The Best Supplements to Combat Constipation

There are various ways available on the market to treat this condition, from laxatives to dietary supplements. This range of options can make it tougher to make the right purchase. That’s why we have selected the best products out there. You can learn more about them in the following section:

Best Supplement to Cleanse the Colon

Cleansing your colon is a great way to combat or prevent constipation, and Dr Tobias’s 14-day supplement will help you do just that. The ingredients contained in this product all play different roles to support healthy bowel movement and energy levels. These include flaxseed powder, aloe vera gel, and licorice root, among others. The best thing is that you only have to take two capsules a day for two weeks to experience the benefits of this supplement. $0.50 per unit.

Best Laxative Powder

This best-selling powder by Miralax is an effective osmotic laxative that will help you when you need it the most. Containing polyethylene glycol 3350, it works with the water already in your body to hydrate and soften your stool, making it easier for you to go to the bathroom. All you have to do is mix this flavorless powder with any hot or cold drink. This osmotic laxative is gluten-free. $0.91 per ounce.

Best Synbiotic Supplement

Synbiotic products combine probiotics and prebiotics, two compounds essential for your gut health. This best-selling dietary supplement offers a variety of benefits to your health, from promoting constipation relief to supporting your immune system as a whole. It is gluten-free and contains other natural ingredients that will boost your health, such as papaya fruit and ginger root powder. This supplement is vegetarian-friendly. $0.13 per unit.

Best Laxative Tablets

Dulcolax’s supplements are stimulant laxatives, whose role is to activate your intestine and soften your stool to help you combat constipation. Each tablet contains 5 milligrams of bisacodyl USP, which will also relieve stomach and constipation pain. These supplements act between 6 and 12 hours after ingestion. This makes them the ideal laxatives to take overnight; that way, you can go to the bathroom when you wake up. $0.17 per unit.

Everything You Should Know About Constipation & How to Deal With It

Many people find it challenging to identify when they have constipation, what could be causing it, and how to handle it. In fact, most of us don’t know when to consider it an emergency that should be treated by a doctor or even in the emergency room. To help you make the right decision, we have answered the most frequently asked questions regarding constipation in the section below.

person with toilet paper

Constipation isn’t a disease in itself but rather a symptom that could indicate that something is off balance in your body or your environment.
(Source: Worathat: 105740857/ 123rf.com)

What is constipation exactly?

The magic number of bowel regularity – 3 – is the best start to answer this question. Here is why:

  • More than three abundant and very soft bowel movements a day indicate diarrhea.
  • Less than three bowel movements a week indicate constipation.
  • If constipation lasts less than three months, it can be considered acute.
  • If constipation lasts more than three months, it can be considered chronic.

It’s that simple! You should also take into account the hardness of the stool and the effort you have to make to pass a bowel movement, as these are prevalent accompanying symptoms of constipation (1).

What are the causes of constipation?

The most common cause in adults is indeterminable. This means that there is no apparent physical, psychological, or environmental explanation that could justify the appearance of this symptom. Nevertheless, various recognizable origins of this condition must be diagnosed and treated correctly as they present a risk to your health (1, 7). These include:

  1. Long-term consumption of drugs such as antidepressants, iron supplements, and antihistamines;
  2. Diabetes mellitus and other metabolic disorders;
  3. Psychiatric disorders such as depression and anorexia nervosa;
  4. Neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease;
  5. Problems in the structure of the digestive tract such as blockages;
  6. Unfavorable lifestyle (sedentary, inappropriate diet, low fluid intake, and overweight or obesity) (15).

What can I do to fight constipation?

Resorting to medication and extreme measures isn’t always necessary to treat constipation. In some cases, making small changes in your lifestyle can work wonders:

  • Increase your fiber consumption. 30 grams of fiber per day can support the regularization of stools (13). Fibers are present in fruits, legumes, and cereals, but be careful! You should raise your intake gradually and under the supervision of your doctor; in certain conditions, fiber could worsen your constipation if you have megacolon or bowel obstruction (1).
  • Exercise. Including physical activity in your daily life brings all kinds of benefits, one of which is that it helps activate bowel movements. This doesn’t mean you have to become a marathon runner overnight; you can start with three hours of low-impact exercise a week and work your way up progressively.
  • Drink enough water. You should consume at least 2 liters per day, or more in tropical environments, when exercising, or if you have fever (12).
  • If you have to go, you have to go! Nature’s call can come at the worst possible time, and you may want to ignore it to avoid feeling embarrassed. However, this will have a negative impact on the regularity of your bowel movements and can lead to chronic constipation in the long run. If you need some food for thought, remember that everyone needs to go to the bathroom.
  • Lift your knees. The toilet is an invention that allows you to sit comfortably to meet your biological needs, but it can cause problems when evacuating! Getting a small support to raise your knees to chest level is an easy fix that won’t compromise your comfort.
foco

Did you know that squatting is the natural way to evacuate? This helps the proper flow of stool by straightening your colon.

What are the warning signs of constipation?

You should always consult your doctor if you start to get constipated, but there are very important signs to watch out for (3):

  • Sudden unexplained changes in weight;
  • Feces with mucus and/or blood or rectal bleeding;
  • Bloating or increase in the perimeter of the abdomen due to accumulation of gas or liquid;
  • Abdominal pain.

Can my child be constipated?

Constipation during childhood is quite different from the one adults suffer from. It presents itself in a very different way due to the immaturity of the digestive system (2). The main differences are as follows:

Infants may have 12 bowel movements a day or only one every five days. The key to knowing if their bowel movements are healthy is to make sure that they are soft and that the baby doesn’t force when defecating.

As they grow, the frequency will become more regular. A 4-year-old child generally has one to two bowel movements a day, becoming more like adults as they get older.

foco

Did you know that the gastrocolic reflex is very common during childhood? It allows the desire to have a bowel movement after every meal. Parents should encourage their children to always go to the bathroom after eating. Remember that patience and love are the key!

What are the most common types of laxatives?

Laxatives are compounds created to attract water to the interior of the intestine, promote the movement of the colon, and/or soften the stool to help its outward progression. You can learn more about the main types of laxatives available on the American market below (1, 4, 8):

Osmotic Laxatives

These include saline and non-saline products. Both are hard to absorb by the intestine, which is why they attract a large amount of water to the interior of the colon.

Advantages
  • They are the most affordable
  • They act fast (1-6 hours via oral consumption, 2-15 minutes via rectal consumption)
  • You can use them during pregnancy
Disadvantages
  • They are contraindicated in case of renal or cardiac failure
  • They may cause dehydration
  • Your body”s ability to absorb vitamins and other nutrients may decrease
  • They can produce flatulence
  • Large doses may cause anal itching, hemorrhoids, and other anorectal conditions

Stimulant Laxatives

Unlike osmotic products, these laxatives directly stimulate the walls of the large intestine, causing it to move. This helps to transport the stool more easily.

Advantages
  • Intermediate action (6-12 hours)
  • Useful in the treatment of constipation caused by opioid treatments
Disadvantages
  • Prolonged treatment can generate abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea
  • They are contraindicated in case of intestinal obstruction from secondary causes

Stool Softeners or Emollient Agents

These laxatives help mix fat, water, and stool to aid in intestinal transit, generating soft, lubricated stools.

Advantages
  • 24-48 hour effect
  • They can be used in individuals with cardiovascular problems, hypertension, affected by hemorrhoids and post-operatively
Disadvantages
  • They may alter your fluid and electrolyte balance
  • Their use may injure your gastric mucosa
  • They may cause nausea, vomiting, and anorexia

Top Tips: How to Choose the Right Product Against Constipation

Since this condition can affect vulnerable population groups such as children, older adults, and pregnant women, knowing which product is the most suitable for your situation is absolutely essential. In the section below, we will give you the tips you need to make the right purchase:

Pregnancy

Not all treatments for constipation are safe, especially for at-risk groups such as pregnant women. It is important to avoid any components that may be absorbed by the placenta, that may stimulate uterine contractions, or that are potentially toxic to the developing baby.

In that regard, the most appropriate supplements during pregnancy are osmotic laxatives (non-absorbable sugars such as lactulose, sorbitol, and mannitol). They should be prescribed by a specialist (1). Stimulant laxatives should be avoided at all costs – those that contain senna, bisacodyl, frangula, aloe, or castor oil. These laxatives can stimulate uterine contractions, triggering premature births or abortions (14).

seeds and oil

Flax seeds are well known for their high fiber content.
(Source: Geografika: 34662052/ 123rf.com)

Older Adults

This population group should steer clear of supplements or laxatives that absorb high amounts of water in the large intestine. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. In addition, they should always be very careful to drink plenty of water, maintain a healthy diet, and engage in physical activity that suits the individual’s capabilities and limitations.

Children/Infants

Quite simply, you should never give any supplement to them without first discussing and evaluating the situation with your pediatrician. Besides, it is essential that you properly educate your children and motivate them to go to the bathroom (2).

little girls eating

Remember to consult your pediatrician before giving your child any type of supplement.
(Source: Yeulet: 109005766/ 123rf.com)

Dietary Restrictions

Nowadays, you can easily find supplements that are vegan-friendly and allergen-free; however, it isn’t necessarily the case with all products. You should always read the product label carefully. While some supplements do not directly contain allergens, they are manufactured in facilities where other products do contain them. Cross-contamination is a risk you don’t want to take.

Summary

Constipation is a common symptom that affects a very large part of the world’s population, especially women and adults over the age of 60. There is no single cause for this condition, which is why it is essential that you consult your physician to find the root of the problem and treat it appropriately.

Lifestyle changes, dietary supplements, and laxatives have all been shown to be effective in treating this symptom, improving the quality of life for those who suffer from constipation.

Do you know anyone who has been battling this condition? Then feel free to share this article with them, so they also have the tools to deal with it! We hope that you found this guide helpful and informative. We’d love to hear your thoughts; you can leave us a comment in the section below!

(Featured Image Source: Grinvalds: 93327251/ 123rf.com)

References (14)

1. Mearin, F., Balboa, A. and Montoro, M., n.d. Estreñimiento. Libro de Gastroenterología y Hepatología. Problemas comunes en la práctica clínica. 2ª Edición [Internet]. AEGASTRO. 2012 [Consultado el 8 Abr 2020]. (1): 147-171.
Source

2. Beatriz E. Guía de Estreñimiento en el Niño. [Internet]. SEGHNP. 2015 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Source

3. Jordi S., Juanjo M. Mercè M., Silvia D., Juan F.m Enrique R., Fermín M. Guía de práctica clínica sobre el manejo del estreñimiento crónico en el paciente adulto. Parte 1: Definición, etiología y manifestaciones clínicas. [Internet]. Elsevier. 2016 [Consultado el 8 Abr 2020].
Source

4. Juana B., Carmen R. Laxantes. [Internet]. Elsevier. 2006 [Consultado el 8 Abr 2020].
Source

5. Beatriz S. Número de casos de estreñimiento España. [Internet]. statista.com. 2011-2016 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Source

6. Personal de Mayo Clinic. Estreñimiento. [Internet]. Mayoclinic.org 2019 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Source

7. Personal de Mayo Clinic. Laxantes de venta libre para tratar el estreñimiento: Úsalos con precaución. [Internet]. Mayoclinic.org. 2018 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Source

8. Maria P. Estreñimiento en adultos. [Internet]. Revista Médica de Costa Rica y Centroamérica LXXII. 2016 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020]. (620): 611-615.
Source

9. Grupo Español de Motilidad Digestiva. Información para pacientes: ESTREÑIMIENTO. [Internet]. Societat Catalana de Digestología. [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Source

10. Miriam M. Estreñimiento: Qué es y cómo tratarlo. [Internet]. Lactoflora.es. [Consultado el 10 Abr 2020].
Source

11. FESNAD y AECOSAN. Hábitos para toda la vida. Hidratación también es salud. [Internet]. 2016 [Consultado el 10 Abr 2020].
Source

12. Societat Catalana de Digestología. Información para pacientes: Estreñimiento. [Internet] scdigestologia.org [Consultado el 10 Abr 2020].
Source

13. María R. Laxantes en el embarazo: ¿Son seguros? [Internet] Real e Ilustre Colegio de Farmacéuticos de Sevilla. 2017 [Consultado el 16 Abr 2020].
Source

14. Sorangel D., Khaled B., Magda D., Constipation [Internet] National Center of Biotechnology Information. 2019 [Consultado el 24 Abr 2020].
Source

Why you can trust me?

Ava Kirk Journalist
Ava has specialized in medical journalism and not only writes about the human body, but also knows her way around food supplements. She also studied sports science in college.
Artículo informativo
Mearin, F., Balboa, A. and Montoro, M., n.d. Estreñimiento. Libro de Gastroenterología y Hepatología. Problemas comunes en la práctica clínica. 2ª Edición [Internet]. AEGASTRO. 2012 [Consultado el 8 Abr 2020]. (1): 147-171.
Go to source
Artículo informativo
Beatriz E. Guía de Estreñimiento en el Niño. [Internet]. SEGHNP. 2015 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo informativo
Jordi S., Juanjo M. Mercè M., Silvia D., Juan F.m Enrique R., Fermín M. Guía de práctica clínica sobre el manejo del estreñimiento crónico en el paciente adulto. Parte 1: Definición, etiología y manifestaciones clínicas. [Internet]. Elsevier. 2016 [Consultado el 8 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo informativo
Juana B., Carmen R. Laxantes. [Internet]. Elsevier. 2006 [Consultado el 8 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Estadística
Beatriz S. Número de casos de estreñimiento España. [Internet]. statista.com. 2011-2016 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo científico
Personal de Mayo Clinic. Estreñimiento. [Internet]. Mayoclinic.org 2019 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo informativo
Personal de Mayo Clinic. Laxantes de venta libre para tratar el estreñimiento: Úsalos con precaución. [Internet]. Mayoclinic.org. 2018 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo médico
Maria P. Estreñimiento en adultos. [Internet]. Revista Médica de Costa Rica y Centroamérica LXXII. 2016 [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020]. (620): 611-615.
Go to source
Artículo científico
Grupo Español de Motilidad Digestiva. Información para pacientes: ESTREÑIMIENTO. [Internet]. Societat Catalana de Digestología. [Consultado el 7 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo informativo
Miriam M. Estreñimiento: Qué es y cómo tratarlo. [Internet]. Lactoflora.es. [Consultado el 10 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo informativo
FESNAD y AECOSAN. Hábitos para toda la vida. Hidratación también es salud. [Internet]. 2016 [Consultado el 10 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo informativo
Societat Catalana de Digestología. Información para pacientes: Estreñimiento. [Internet] scdigestologia.org [Consultado el 10 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo informativo
María R. Laxantes en el embarazo: ¿Son seguros? [Internet] Real e Ilustre Colegio de Farmacéuticos de Sevilla. 2017 [Consultado el 16 Abr 2020].
Go to source
Artículo científico
Sorangel D., Khaled B., Magda D., Constipation [Internet] National Center of Biotechnology Information. 2019 [Consultado el 24 Abr 2020].
Go to source