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Coping with constipation

Lankenau Medical Center April 28, 2017 General Wellness

The holidays—which are often marked by busy schedules, traveling, and celebratory meals—are a time to let loose and have fun with friends and family. But the same things that make the holidays fun can also send your digestive system into distress.

Although it can make you uncomfortable, it’s certainly not uncommon to feel a little ‘backed up’ on days when you deviate from your normal routine, says Henry Schoonyoung, MD, colorectal surgeon at Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health.

“Many people tend to notice constipation is more common around holidays or vacations. There’s a reason for this,” he explains. “The seemingly minor decisions we make every day, like when and what you’re eating or how much sleep you’re getting, affect the digestive system. When those factors change, your bowel habits likely will, too.”

Fortunately, there are a few quick fixes that can help you find relief. Dr. Schoonyoung offers hip tips for coping with constipation.

Exercise to relieve constipation

Pounding the pavement or an hour-long Pilates class is likely the last thing on your mind during a vacation, especially when you’re not feeling well, but gentle exercise is one of the most effective ways to relieve constipation naturally.

You don’t need to do anything too rigorous. Try walking a few laps around your neighborhood in the morning and evening after meals. This movement should help decrease the amount of time it takes for food to move through your large intestine, and make stool easier to pass.

Fill up on the right foods

Dairy, meat, fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol are all staples of holiday meals and vacation celebrations. Unfortunately, they’re also the foods that contribute to constipation.

“Processed foods like pizza, cheese, and chips have very little nutritional value and, most importantly for digestion, are low in fiber,” says Dr. Schoonyoung.

While you don’t have to skip out on your favorite dishes, try to also fill your plate with high-fiber foods that will help keep you regular, like regular or dried fruits, whole wheat cereal and bread, vegetables like carrots and Brussels sprouts, beans, pecans, almonds, and oatmeal.

Hydrate to prevent constipation

Drinking water helps keep food that you eat moving through the intestines. Make sure you’re drinking several glasses of water per day.

Not a water drinker? Try a glass of hot peppermint tea.

Listen to your body

Whether you’re traveling somewhere new or not, it’s not uncommon to feel self-conscious about using the bathroom. Many individuals find themselves needing to use the bathroom, but embarrassed to do so—either in the home of a friend or family member or in a public restroom. However, ignoring your body at times like these can worsen constipation.

“If you have gotten into a routine of using the bathroom at around the same time every day, try as often as possible to stick to that routine even when you’re away,” says Dr. Schoonyoung.

If you find yourself feeling especially self-conscious, bring a pair of headphones into the restroom with you and listen to music, or try to find a restroom in a remote area of the building or home you’re in to make yourself feel comfortable. Also, plan ahead. If you know that you’ll be uncomfortable during your stay with a relative or friend, make plans to stay at a nearby hotel to ensure you’ll have fun during your trip—and be comfortable.

Try medication for constipation

If these tips haven’t helped you find relief, a medication may help. Stool softeners and laxatives are available at the pharmacy and can often help accelerate digestion.

Although these medications are easily accessible, check with your doctor before taking a laxative, and take a small dosage to see how your body reacts.

While constipation is a very common condition and typically nothing to be concerned about, call your doctor if you notice any other symptoms that are out of the ordinary.

“If constipation persists even after all of these treatments, or if it’s accompanied by stomach pain, blood in your stool, or weight loss, report your symptoms to your doctor and schedule a follow-up visit,” says Dr. Schoonyoung.