Ask the Pharmacist

Ask the Pharmacist

When you’re ‘stuck-y’ you feel yucky

By Fatima Benhalima and Tara Storjohann

 

What is constipation?

Great question! All too often we find ourselves so busy we neglect to take care of our gut health, which can lead to constipation. Constipation describes a condition in which people experience difficulties with passing stool, also known as bowel movement. It is common and can be experienced by many people. Having constipation may lead to an uncomfortable feeling. It is important to know that bowel movements vary from person to person. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a bowel movement every day. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, moving the bowels less than three times a week is considered infrequent.

What are constipation signs and symptoms?

Individuals often find themselves straining to pass stool, notice that they may not go to the restroom as frequently, or they have hard or lumpy stools that are painful to pass. Some common complaints include bloating, inability to completely empty the bowels and feeling “blocked.”

What causes constipation?

Constipation can be caused by some medicines such as pain medications (like codeine or hydrocodone), diabetes or depression. Supplements containing iron are also known to cause constipation. Dietary effects, like not eating high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables or not drinking enough water, can increase your risk. Finally, not exercising and not going when you get the “urge” as well as stress and pregnancy can make symptoms of constipation worse.

What should my poop look like?

Bowel movements are different for everyone. The most important thing to keep in mind is that your stools should be soft and easy to pass, like types 3 or 4 in the Bristol stool chart (see graphic).

What can I do to prevent constipation?

Toileting habits are fundamental to preventing constipation. Get in the habit of going when the urge comes.

Getting more fiber in your diet might help. Increase dietary fiber to a total of 20 to 25 grams per day with fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, oats and wheat bran. Choose fruits such as apples and oranges and vegetables such as broccoli.

Stay hydrated. Make sure you are drinking a lot of water. 1.5 to 2 liters per day are encouraged. Choose healthful options such as water or juice over carbonated and sugary drinks.

Exercise can definitely help. Try physical activities such as walking or swimming.

What can I use to help treat my constipation?

Making healthy lifestyle changes can improve chronic constipation, but it may take days to weeks to see results. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help with relief if necessary. The American Gastrointestinal Association recommends the following solutions as a step-wise approach:

1: Slowly increase fiber intake as stated above.

2: Add a fiber supplement, such as psyllium or methylcellulose.

3: Consider an osmotic agent, such as milk of magnesia or polyethylene glycol.

4: The next step may be to supplement the osmotic agent with a stimulant laxative

     such as Bisacodyl or Senna if constipation persists and additional effects are

     needed.

Who can help me select the right product?

Constipation is manageable. You do not have to feel stuck-y or yucky. Ask your neighborhood pharmacist for help selecting the right product for you. Pharmacists are medication experts and can help guide you through the agents available over-the-counter and select the most appropriate agent for your symptoms. In addition, they will educate you on how to take it and caution you on the most common side-effects you may experience. If your symptoms do not improve within one week or they worsen despite use of OTC agents, contact your doctor right away. Seek medical treatment if you experience worsening constipation, belly pain, nausea or vomiting.

Information on this topic was obtained from the American Gastroenterological Association and WebMD. Information on the Bristol stool chart can be found at the Continence Foundation of Australia website: continence.org.au/pages/bristol-stool-chart.html.  

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