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How to relieve constipation

Constipation is a common digestive issue where bowel movements become infrequent or difficult to pass. It often results in hard, dry stools and discomfort. Relieving constipation and bloating involves a combination of dietary, lifestyle, and self-care measures. Here are some effective strategies to help alleviate these discomforts:

  • Increase fiber intake: Incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your diet, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. Fiber adds bulk to stools and promotes regular bowel movements.

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep stools soft and easier to pass. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water daily.

  • Physical activity: Engage in regular physical activity to stimulate bowel movements. Even a brisk walk or light exercise can help alleviate constipation and reduce bloating.

  • Prune juice: Prune juice is a natural laxative that can help soften stools and promote bowel movements. Drinking a small glass of prune juice may be effective.

  • Probiotics: Consume foods rich in probiotics, like yogurt and fermented foods, to promote a healthy gut flora and aid digestion.

  • Avoid processed foods: Minimize intake of processed and fatty foods, as they can contribute to constipation and bloating.

  • Avoid overeating: Eat smaller, more frequent meals to prevent overloading your digestive system and reduce the likelihood of bloating.

  • Peppermint tea: Peppermint tea can help relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, relieving bloating and gas.

  • Avoid carbonated drinks: Carbonated beverages can lead to gas and bloating. Opt for non-carbonated alternatives.

  • Warm compress: Placing a warm compress on your abdomen can help soothe bloating and provide relief.

  • Avoid chewing gum: Chewing gum can lead to swallowing air, which can contribute to bloating. Minimize gum chewing if you're prone to bloating.

  • Gentle abdominal massage: Gently massaging your abdomen in a circular motion can help stimulate bowel movement and ease bloating.

  • Stool softeners: Over-the-counter stool softeners may provide short-term relief by making stools easier to pass. Consult a healthcare professional before using any medications.

  • Consult a primary care provider: If constipation and bloating are persistent or severe, consult a doctor. They can provide tailored recommendations and rule out underlying medical conditions.


What are the causes of constipation?

Constipation can arise due to various factors that affect the normal functioning of your digestive system. Some common causes of constipation include:

  • Low fiber intake: Not consuming enough fiber-rich foods can lead to difficulty in passing stools, as fiber adds bulk to the stool and promotes regular bowel movements.

  • Dehydration: Inadequate fluid intake can result in hard and dry stools, making them harder to pass through the intestines.

  • Lack of physical activity: Leading a sedentary lifestyle can slow down the digestive process and contribute to constipation.

  • Poor diet: A diet low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and high in processed foods, can disrupt regular bowel movements.

  • Ignoring the urge: Ignoring the natural urge to have a bowel movement can lead to a buildup of stool in the intestines, causing constipation.

  • Medications: Certain medications, such as opioids, antacids with calcium or aluminum, and some antidepressants, can contribute to constipation.

  • Medical conditions: Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hypothyroidism, and neurological disorders can affect bowel movements.

  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy and pressure on the intestines can lead to constipation.

  • Age: As people age, the muscles involved in bowel movements may weaken, leading to constipation.

  • Stress: Chronic stress can impact the digestive system and contribute to constipation.

  • Changes in routine: Travel or changes in daily routine can disrupt the body's internal clock, affecting bowel movements.


What are common symptoms of constipation?

  • Infrequent bowel movements: One of the primary signs of constipation is having fewer bowel movements than usual. This might mean passing stools less than three times per week.
  • Hard and dry stools: Stools that are hard, dry, and difficult to pass are a hallmark of constipation. They may require straining during bowel movements.

  • Straining: Feeling the need to strain excessively while trying to pass stools is a clear indication of constipation. This straining can lead to discomfort and even pain.

  • Incomplete evacuation: You might feel like you haven't fully emptied your bowels after a bowel movement, which is a common symptom of constipation.

  • Abdominal discomfort: Constipation can cause abdominal discomfort, cramping, or bloating. You might experience a sense of heaviness or fullness in your abdomen.

  • Painful bowel movements: Passing hard stools can cause pain and discomfort during bowel movements, leading to a reluctance to use the restroom.

  • Excessive gas: Constipation can lead to a buildup of gas in the intestines, causing increased flatulence and discomfort.

  • Rectal bleeding: Straining during bowel movements can sometimes cause small tears in the anus or rectum, leading to traces of blood on the toilet paper.

  • Decreased appetite: Some individuals with constipation might experience a reduced appetite or general feelings of malaise.

  • Mucus in stools: Constipation can result in the production of excess mucus in the colon, which might be visible in the stools.


Occasional bouts of constipation are common and often resolve on their own. However, if you experience persistent or severe symptoms, or if constipation becomes a recurrent issue, consider scheduling an appointment with a Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group primary care provider.

How does your diet impact constipation?

Your diet plays a significant role in influencing the occurrence of constipation. The types of foods you consume can affect various aspects of digestion and bowel movements. Here's how your diet can impact constipation:

  • Fiber intake: A diet low in fiber is a common contributor to constipation. Fiber adds bulk to stools, making them easier to pass through the intestines. Insufficient fiber intake can lead to harder stools and slower transit time, increasing the risk of constipation.

  • Hydration: Proper hydration is essential for maintaining soft and easily passable stools. Inadequate fluid intake can result in dry stools that are difficult to eliminate.

  • Processed foods: Diets high in processed and refined foods, such as sugary snacks and fast food, often lack the necessary nutrients and fiber for healthy digestion. These foods can contribute to constipation.

  • Lack of fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals that support proper digestion. Their absence in the diet can lead to constipation.

  • Whole grains: Whole grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice, and oats, provide a good source of dietary fiber that aids in regular bowel movements. Consuming refined grains instead may contribute to constipation.

  • Healthy fats: Healthy fats, like those found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil, can help lubricate the intestines and promote smoother passage of stool.

  • Probiotics: Probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt and fermented foods, contain beneficial bacteria that support gut health and regular digestion. A lack of these foods might affect bowel regularity.

  • Overconsumption of dairy: Some individuals may experience constipation as a result of consuming excessive dairy products, especially if they are lactose intolerant.

  • Low magnesium intake: Magnesium helps relax the muscles in the intestines, promoting proper bowel movements. A diet lacking in magnesium-rich foods may contribute to constipation.

  • Ignoring meal patterns: Irregular meal patterns or skipping meals can disrupt the body's natural digestive rhythm, potentially leading to constipation.


To promote healthy digestion and prevent constipation, aim for a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Incorporate ample fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, stay hydrated, and consider including foods that support gut health, such as probiotics. Making these dietary adjustments can contribute to regular bowel movements and overall digestive well-being.

What foods are the best source of fiber?

  • Whole grains: Opt for whole grain options like:

    • Whole wheat

    • Brown rice

    • Quinoa

    • Oats

    • Barley

  • Legumes: Legumes are rich in fiber and include:

    • Lentils

    • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

    • Black beans

    • Kidney beans

    • Split peas

  • Fruits: Many fruits are high in fiber, including:

    • Apples (with skin)

    • Pears (with skin)

    • Berries (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)

    • Bananas

    • Oranges

  • Vegetables: Numerous vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, such as:

    • Broccoli

    • Brussels sprouts

    • Carrots

    • Spinach

    • Cauliflower

  • Nuts and seeds: Incorporate nuts and seeds into your diet, including:

    • Almonds

    • Chia seeds

    • Flaxseeds

    • Sunflower seeds

  • Whole grain pasta and bread: Choose whole grain varieties of pasta and bread for added fiber.

  • Cereals: Look for high-fiber cereals that contain bran, oats, or whole grains.

  • Avocado: Avocado is not only a source of healthy fats but also contains a good amount of fiber.

  • Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are a nutritious and fiber-rich option.

  • Popcorn: Air-popped popcorn is a whole grain snack that offers dietary fiber.

  • Prunes: Prunes, or dried plums, are well-known for their natural laxative effect due to their high fiber content.

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