womenTALK: Blog

Thursday, Aug 12th 2010

When you just can’t go: Constipation 101

authored by Sheryl Kraft

Tuesday's post brought a flurry of emails. "Thanks for writing about a subject I'm too embarrassed to talk about," read one. And then there was this one: "I could be your friend, you know, the one who doesn't go to the bathroom for weeks. Frankly, it scares me a little."

So, I did a little more digging on the subject. And here's the deal. Some people move their bowels every day; in fact, they think they get bragging rights about it. (It's almost like bragging about how often they have sex, I swear).

But what's "normal" varies from person to person. The true meaning of "constipation" is having a bowel movement less than three times a week.

Are you wondering what causes it? I was too. And I was surprised to find it's not only when you don't get enough fiber in your diet but also can result from things like dehydration, certain medications (like narcotics and iron) and changes in routine (like travel - I suspected this one), and of course, stress (doesn't stress just mess with everything?). Of course, there are more serious causes, like certain diseases (stroke among them) and conditions (like hypothyroidism).

In an effort to make the world a happier place, here are some constipation dos and don'ts:

Do: Eat enough fiber (At least 2 cups of fruits and 2-1/2 cups of veggies per day) Good sources: beans, whole grains and bran cereals, fresh fruits like apples, peaches, raspberries, tangerines; veggies like cabbage, broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts. A word to the wise: if you're not used to eating fiber, add it slowly to your diet to avoid the build-up of gas and bloating.

Don't: Eat foods that have little or no fiber, like ice cream, cheese, meat, and processed foods. Even milk can be binding.

Do: Eat prunes. They're packed with fiber and can add bulk to stool and make it pass more quickly through the colon. They also contain a natural laxative called sorbitol.

Don't: Rely on laxatives. They're okay for a short period of time, but if you begin to rely on them, you need to slowly stop using them so that your colon retains its natural ability to contract. The exception: bulk-forming laxatives are okay and make life, well, easier.

Do: Drink plenty of water. It prevents dehydration, which is a cause of constipation. By the way, things coffee, soda or and alcohol also cause dehydration, so try to go light(er) on these if you are susceptible.

Don't: Put off a trip to the bathroom. I know the urge can hit at inopportune times.  Sorry, but waiting will only make the problem worse. So go ahead and tell the person on the other end of the phone you'll call them back. Or be brave and enter the dreaded public restroom.

Do: Get plenty of exercise. Walking, running and even yoga and stretching can be your colon's friend, freeing it up to do its best work.

You may also want to read what our resident experts has to say here and here.

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Jan 26, 2015 10:Jan 10 | karthika said

Im 22 years old. I'm not able

Im 22 years old. I'm not able to go since a week. Im so scared. Can anyone please help mr..

Apr 29, 2014 21:Apr 9 | said


I have always been constipated since childhood. I drink very little milk, eat lots of veggies & fruit, I'm a big walker & my doctor has me on Polyethylene Glycol 3350 NF which is a prescription Miralax powder. I have hypothyroidism, but I'm on pills for this.

The last 3 days I have been constipated to the point of some pain. In the last 3 days I have taken 2 enemas a day. Now get this, all the water that has gone up has NOT come out.

Help, anybody!!!

Jan 04, 2013 10:Jan 10 | Aurora said


I have done all of the things suggested above though I still am not able to go. I don't know why however... Any suggestions?

Aug 16, 2010 02:Aug 2 | sarah henry said

"Doesn't stress just mess

"Doesn't stress just mess with everything?" Sing it sister!

Aug 19, 2010 22:Aug 10 | Sheryl said

A top 30 hit, that song!

A top 30 hit, that song!

Aug 15, 2010 00:Aug 12 | Jane Boursaw said

Great info on something

Great info on something everyone has to deal with at one time or another. My defense: Autumn Harvest wheat cereal. Works every time. :-) But I love fruits and veggies and other whole grains, too.

Aug 19, 2010 22:Aug 10 | Sheryl said

Well, Jane, I'll have to see

Well, Jane, I'll have to see if my local supermarket carries your cereal-cureall. Thanks for the tip.

Aug 12, 2010 17:Aug 5 | Kris said

Excellent advice. It's not a

Excellent advice. It's not a common problem for me, but when I'm traveling it's a different story.

Aug 12, 2010 17:Aug 5 | ruth pennebaker said

not going enough

Sheryl -- You manage to tackle the most important -- but borderline taboo -- health topics out there. Just started to grin when I saw the subject of this post and will refrain from saying something like, You go, girl!

Aug 19, 2010 22:Aug 10 | Sheryl said

Don't refrain from saying

Don't refrain from saying that -it's the perfect statement :)

Aug 12, 2010 17:Aug 5 | Alexandra said

I have not had to deal with

I have not had to deal with this problem ever since I began treatment for underactive thyroid, brought on after being under the Chernobyl nuclear cloud in France, whose existence was, by the way, denied by French television. But this is a great post, lots of good advice here. I'm having my husband read it.

Aug 12, 2010 13:Aug 1 | Kristen said

So good to point out that

So good to point out that certain medications can mess up your system. I'm surprised that doctors don't always explain that.

Aug 19, 2010 22:Aug 10 | Sheryl said

I agree - doctors and/or

I agree - doctors and/or pharmacists would do us a big favor if they did explain the possible consequences. When I was taking medication for my blood pressure, my doctor said it was improbable after I told him I had gotten very constipated - and now, I'm hearing and reading about that reaction more and more.

Aug 12, 2010 13:Aug 1 | frugal kiwi said

Personal standbys for this

Personal standbys for this delicate condition are dried apricots and fresh fruit. Noshing on 4-5 kiwifruit seems to sort things out, but I live in the Land of Kiwifruit, so it is more cost effective here.

Aug 12, 2010 12:Aug 12 | judy stock said

When you Just Can't Go

Great article. Learned a lot. My defense against constipation is tried and true prunes. Yes guys it really does work.

Aug 12, 2010 12:Aug 12 | Alisa Bowman said

I had this issue when I was

I had this issue when I was pregnant and prunes did fix me right up.

Aug 19, 2010 22:Aug 10 | Sheryl said

let's hear it for the power

let's hear it for the power of prunes...seems to be everyone's favorite remedy!

Aug 12, 2010 12:Aug 12 | Jennifer Margulis said

magnesium also helps

for people experiencing a lot of constipation -- it could be a magnesium deficiency. I recently learned that taking a magnesium supplement (magnesium citrate in powder form) can really help with constipation!

Aug 19, 2010 22:Aug 10 | Sheryl said

Thanks for the magnesium tip.

Thanks for the magnesium tip. I seem to remember hearing that somewhere, but neglected to include it in this post. Appreciate it!

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