Constipation is a condition of the digestive system where an individual has hard feces that are difficult to expel or he/she experiences a sense of incomplete emptying after passing stool.
In most cases, this occurs because the colon has absorbed too much water from the food that is in the colon. Stools are hard, pellet shaped and it hurts while passing the stools.
A recent survey has found that nearly 22 percent of adult Indian population suffers from constipation, with Kolkata topping the chart at 28 percent among the eight cities where the study was conducted.
Causes of Constipation:
- Diet with processed foods like chips, bread, rice and less of whole grains, fruits and vegetables that add fibre to the diet, people who consume more dairy products
- Reduced consumption of water and increased intake of diuretics like tea/coffee/alcohol.
- Sedentary lifestyle with no exercises
- Not visiting the toilet when the pressure arises
- Certain diseases like hypothyroidism, Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, clinical depression, IBS
- Medications like iron supplements, medicines for hypertension, antidepressants
- Pregnancy, due to hormonal changes
- Age - old age brings about low metabolism leading to constipation.
- Travelling - leading to change in routine causing constipation temporarily
- Overuse of laxatives
- Increased difficulty and straining while passing stools
- Passing stools less than three times a week
- Stools that cause tearing and bleeding near the anus
- Bloating and abdominal cramps and nausea
- Loss of appetite
Complications of constipation
- Hemorrhoids or swollen veins in the anus: While having a bowel movement if you strain often, it may cause swelling in the veins in and around your anus. Infact, chronic constipation can lead to the development of piles.
- Anal fissure: Straining to pass stools can cause tiny tears in the anus.
- Fecal impaction: Hardened stool can accumulate and remain stuck in your intestines if you suffer from chronic constipation.
- Rectal prolapse: This occurs when due to too much straining over time, during bowel movements, causes a small part of the rectum to stretch and protrude from the anus.
Treatment is aimed at providing bulk to the stool, softening the stool and exercising the abdominal muscles for easy passing of the stools. The treatment options are:
Diet and lifestyle changes
- High fibre - 20-25g of fibre per day from whole grain cereals, pulses, fruits with skin and vegetables. Gradual increase of fibre daily with proper hydration helps in soft stools and easy passage of stools.
- Include food with mucilaginous fibre - ladies finger, flax seeds, fenugreek seeds, sabja seeds, psyllium husk (isabgol) to relieve constipation
- Avoid processed foods and reduce consumption of dairy products like cheese
Exercise - 30-40 minutes of walk daily with some yoga to exercise the abdominal muscles
Proper toilet practices
- Avoid taking newspaper/mobile/tab to the toilet
- Never resist the urge to defecate
- Squatting position helps in complete elimination, hence if you have a modern toilet, it is advisable to use a small stool to rest your feet and keep them at that elevation.
Ayurvedic perspective/treatment options
- Use of castor oil - lubricates as well as gentle laxative esp for children and elderly.
- Treat the cause e.g. hypothyroidism or diabetes etc
- Consumption of natural lubricants like pure cow ghee daily, homemade butter
- Avoid eating heavy meals at night or sleeping immediately after lunch / dinner
- Application of warm castor oil on abdomen
- Sleeping on time