The Basics of Constipation

Constipation is one of those topics few like to talk about. If you’ve suffered from this problem, though, you know it can be both painful and frustrating. Almost everyone gets constipated at some time during his or her life. It affects approximately 2% of the population in the U.S. Women and the elderly are more commonly affected. Though not usually serious, constipation can be a concern.

What Is Constipation?
Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. The normal length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements three times a day; others, only one or two times a week. Going longer than three days without a bowel movement is too long. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and more difficult to pass.
You are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following for at least 3 months:

  • Straining during a bowel movement more than 25% of the time
  • Hard stools more than 25% of the time
  • Incomplete evacuation more than 25% of the time
  • Two or fewer bowel movements in a week

What Causes Constipation?
Constipation is usually caused by a disorder of bowel function rather than a structural problem. Common causes of constipation include:

  • Inadequate water intake
  • Inadequate fiber in the diet
  • A disruption of regular diet or routine; traveling
  • Inadequate activity or exercise or immobility
  • Eating large amounts of dairy products
  • Stress
  • Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement, which is sometimes the result of pain from hemorrhoids
  • Overuse of laxatives (stool softeners) which, over time, weaken the bowel muscles
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis
  • Antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Medicines (especially strong pain medicines, such as narcotics, antidepressants, or iron pills)
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Colon Cancer

How Can I Prevent Constipation?
There are several things you can do to prevent constipation. Among them:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber. Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal (especially bran). Fiber and water help the colon pass stool.
  • Drink 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of water and other fluids a day (unless fluid restricted for another medical condition). Liquids that contain caffeine, such as coffee and soft drinks, seem to have a dehydrating effect and may need to be avoided until your bowel habits return to normal. Some people may need to avoid milk, as dairy products may be constipating for them.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Move your bowels when you feel the urge.

What Should I Do If I Am Constipated?
If you are constipated, try the following:

  • Drink two to four extra glasses of water a day (unless fluid restricted).
  • Try warm liquids, especially in the morning.
  • Eat prunes and/or bran cereal.
  • If needed, use a very mild stool softener. (See our Liquid Fiber)

Reviewed By Andrew Seibert, MD for WebMD.com
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Ways to treat Diarrhea

Usually, a bout of diarrhea will last only a few days. This common digestive health problem usually goes away on its own, and recovery occurs without administering any remedies. “However, severe diarrhea, diarrhea that lasts more than a few days, or prolonged episodes of diarrhea are reasons to see a doctor, as they could indicate something more serious,” says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond, Va. It’s also important to remember that diarrhea treatments for adults, especially medication, may not be the same for children with diarrhea, so you should check with your pediatrician first.

Treatment for Diarrhea: Preventing Dehydration
The major concern with diarrhea is dehydration. Your body can lose a lot of fluids and salts when you have very loose, watery stools, and it is important to replenish them. Here’s how:

  • Select sports drinks. “Sports drinks make sense and are available in a wide variety of flavors,” Dr. Bickston says. What makes them work is their sugar and salt contents, both of which cause water to be absorbed, and even more so when taken together. People can make their own sports drinks by adding a teaspoon of salt to a quart of apple juice, Bickston says. “That little amount of salt will help the body absorb fluids but isn’t enough to make the apple juice taste bad.” Bickston recommends the drinks be at room temperature because warm sits better than cold.
  • Sip other good fluid options. Some other good choices for treating diarrhea include clear broth and water (unless you are traveling out of the country).
  • Avoid drinks that can worsen symptoms. Caffeinated, alcoholic, and sugary drinks can worsen dehydration. Milk and other dairy products can exacerbate the problem for some people, who may become lactose-intolerant for a short time after getting diarrhea.

Treatment for Diarrhea: A Bland Diet

When dealing with a brief bout of diarrhea, you want to watch your diet and keep it bland. You may not want to eat anything but clear liquids for the first 24 hours. Then, you can slowly add bland foods to your diet. These include bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast — otherwise known as the BRAT diet. Crackers and mashed potatoes (minus the butter) are also safe, bland foods.

If your diarrhea is more prolonged, you might want to investigate the foods you are eating, as some can irritate your bowel and make diarrhea worse. These include foods that are high in fiber (bran, whole grains, brown rice) and greasy or excessively sweet foods. Foods that are sweetened with sorbitol can aggravate diarrhea, Bickston says. If loose stools have become a problem, then you may want to avoid these foods.

If certain foods are causing your diarrhea, try the elimination diet. Cut the suspected food from your diet until you are sure it is or is not the culprit. If it’s not the problem, feel free to return that food to your diet. “The difficulty I see in a lot of patients is that they don’t put things back into their diet even if they’re not causing a problem, and now they’ve painted themselves into a dietary corner,” Bickston says. “All they’re eating is mashed potatoes and rice.”

Treatment for Diarrhea: Pharmaceutical Options

In most cases, over-the-counter medications can be helpful in stopping an occasional bout of diarrhea — especially with traveler’s diarrhea (ingesting contaminated food or water while abroad). Choices you can buy at your pharmacy include loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate). “These are reasonable to use on occasion and have the great advantage of not requiring a doctor’s prescription,” Bickston says. However, they should not be used for more than two days.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you take pharmaceutical remedies for traveler’s diarrhea, they may make you feel better sooner, but they could keep any bacteria, parasites, or viruses in your system longer. Usually, diarrhea will go away in a few days on its own.

Be sure to replace any fluids and salts that you lose when you have diarrhea. Drink plenty of clear fluids and eat bland foods to get back to normal quickly. If your diarrhea persists, talk to your doctor.

By Beth Orenstein for everydayhealth.com|Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Diarrhea is a condition that leads to frequent, loose or watery stools. Those with it don’t absorb nutrients or water properly. If it lasts too long, diarrhea sufferers can get dehydrated or have electrolyte problems.

In most cases of sudden diarrhea the right treatment is simply waiting it out. The body is almost always reacting to an infection or ingestion of something bad by ridding itself of toxins or bacteria and once it is finished, bowl movements will return to normal. When diarrhea lasts more than a couple of days or comes on frequently, it might be a bigger problem and will need to be treated by a healthcare provider.

Specific causes of diarrhea have specific treatments. Use these general treatment steps when the cause of diarrhea isn’t known or can’t be treated itself.
Time Required: 24 to 72 hours
Here’s How:

  1. Avoid dehydration:
    Drink lots of clear fluid — no alcohol or caffeine. Milk will usually prolong diarrhea, but it might help provide nutrients for folks with very mild cases. For moderate to severe cases, use an electrolyte solution like Gatorade or Pedialyte.
  2. Eat probiotic yogurt.
    These active cultures can ease the symptoms of some types of diarrhea and shorten their duration.
  3. Try the BRAT diet:
    bananas, rice, apples or applesauce, and dry toast. This diet is often suggested for kids, but adults can eat it as well. It’s not necessary to restrict kids or adults to this diet, but adding these foods may help shorten episodes of diarrhea.
  4. Avoid diarrhea medications,
    unless the doctor tells you to take them. The function of diarrhea is to rid the body of bad bugs. Often the only way to get better is to suffer through the loose stools.
  5. The following cases require seeking emergency treatment:
    unless the doctor tells you to take them. The function of diarrhea is to rid the body of bad bugs. Often the only way to get better is to suffer through the loose stools.

    • Vomiting or diarrhea in a newborn under 3 months (call as soon as it starts)
    • Kids older than 3 months vomiting for more than 12 hours
    • Diarrhea lasting more than 3 days
    • Bloody, black, or oily looking stools
    • Abdominal pain that doesn’t get better with a bowel movement
    • Dehydration symptoms including dizziness, weakness or muscle cramps
    • Fever, along with diarrhea, of more than 101 in adults or 100.4 in kids
    • Recent travel outside the country (Traveler’s Diarrhea)
    • People with whom you’ve eaten complaining of diarrhea
    • Diarrhea after starting a new medication
  6. Get plenty of rest.

Sources:
“Travelers’ Diarrhea.” 15 Feb 2008. Centers for Disease Control. CDC. 12 Mar 2008
“Diarrhea.” 20 Feb 2008. Medline Plus. USNLM/NIH. 12 Mar 2008 “Diarrhea.” Mar 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. NIDDK. 23 Mar 2008

By Rod Brouhard for about.com
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You may blame it on a 24-hour bug or something you ate, but if you’re like the average American, you’ll suffer once or twice this year from diarrhea: frequent, watery bowel movements that may be accompanied by painful cramps or nausea and vomiting.You may blame it on a 24-hour bug or something you ate, but if you’re like the average American, you’ll suffer once or twice this year from diarrhea: frequent, watery bowel movements that may be accompanied by painful cramps or nausea and vomiting.

Diarrhea is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but generally no big deal in otherwise healthy adults. However, if diarrhea becomes a chronic condition, the situation changes. Or if it affects the very young, the elderly, or the chronically ill, it can be dangerous. And if you’re not careful to drink enough fluids, you could find yourself complicating what should have been a simple enough situation.

There are essentially two types of diarrhea: acute and chronic. Thankfully, the vast majority of diarrhea is acute, or short term. This type of diarrhea keeps you on the toilet for a couple of days but doesn’t stick around long. Acute diarrhea is also known as non-inflammatory diarrhea. Its symptoms are what most people associate with the condition: watery, frequent stools accompanied by stomach cramps, gas and nausea.

Acute diarrhea usually has a bacterial or viral culprit. Gastroenteritis, mistakenly called the “stomach flu,” is one of the most common infections that cause diarrhea. Gastroenteritis can be caused by many different viruses. Eating or drinking foods contaminated with bacteria can also cause diarrhea. Other causes of acute diarrhea are lactose intolerance, sweeteners such as sorbitol, over-the-counter antacids that contain magnesium, too much vitamin C, and some antibiotics.

In this article, you will find the home remedies you can follow to keep yourself healthy while you are battling diarrhea. You will also find out what to do in more extreme cases of diarrhea.

By Editors of Consumer Guide from howstuffworks.com
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About Diarrhea-Predominant IBS
IBS can cause a number of different symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping, and gas. These symptoms can occur individually, together, or alternating. People whose primary IBS symptom is diarrhea — a sudden, urgent need to have a bowel movement that results in loose and watery stools — have what’s called diarrhea-predominant IBS, or IBS-D. Doctors don’t understand what causes diarrhea to occur in IBS patients, but some people notice that diarrhea strikes when they feel stressed or anxious. Others notice a pattern of diarrhea following certain foods.

Food and diarrhea. To figure out which foods might be causing your diarrhea, consider some common triggers — like dairy foods.

“Generally [IBS patients] need to see if there are any food triggers that aggravate diarrhea. Are they lactose-intolerant? If dairy products tend to aggravate or trigger their symptoms, they may have associated lactose intolerance, and so dairy products may need to be avoided,” suggests Norman Gilinsky, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

Stress and diarrhea. If you notice that your diarrhea episodes seem to always occur around stressful situations, perhaps the stress that your body feels is what’s triggering your gut to react.

“If they recognize certain stress situations will produce diarrhea — and we can’t avoid stress in what we do these days — it may be reasonable to take an Imodium ahead of time. If someone is going to take part in a meeting that may be stressful and knows that they are likely to have diarrhea and cramps, an anti-diarrheal ahead of time could be very useful,” recommends Dr. Gilinsky.

Managing IBS Diarrhea
Maybe your IBS symptoms are caused by food or stress, but maybe they’re not. No matter what the cause is, you have to find a way to manage your IBS and keep it from interrupting your life once, twice, or 10 times a day. Here are some suggestions to help you manage your diarrhea caused by IBS:

Take fiber. Fiber pill supplements or a powder mixture that contains psyllium (please see our fiber powders) can help some people with IBS control their diarrhea. “Some individuals may use a fiber preparation, which some people find useful to bind and increase the bulk of the stool for those that have diarrhea,” recommends Gilinsky. He also notes that fiber is more likely to be effective in those who experience stress-related diarrhea.
Take an anti-diarrheal. Try taking an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication, like Imodium, as Gilinsky suggests. If you’ve got a situation coming up that you’re nervous about, try a dose of medication to see if it can settle your stomach.
Avoid trigger foods. If you notice that dairy products have you running to the bathroom, cut them out of your diet — particularly before an event or activity where you can’t be interrupted. Some other common triggers of diarrhea include fried and fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, and carbonated drinks.
Eat foods that can help solidify your stools. Include foods like bananas, rice, whole-wheat breads and other whole-grain products in your diet. These “bulking” foods might help ease diarrhea if you eat them regularly.
Manage stress. Stress is impossible to avoid, but can be managed in a variety of ways. Exercise is a great stress reliever — particularly types that allow for focus and meditation, like yoga. Even just taking a walk, or going for a bike ride or a run, can help relax your mind and body. Deep-breathing techniques and meditation are also good methods of managing stress and promoting relaxation.
Try therapy. Hypnotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy have been shown to help some people manage diarrhea caused by IBS. These methods work on controlling fears and changing the way you think about your disease in order to prevent the body from responding with diarrhea.
Ask your doctor about medications. Anti-spasmodic medications, antidepressants, and other medications can offer some IBS patients relief from their diarrhea.

There are many different ways to try to control your diarrhea caused by IBS. It may take some time and a combination of methods to find what works for you, but keep trying. You don’t have to spend your life near a bathroom — you just have to figure out what works for your body.

By Diana Rodriguez from everydayhealth.com | Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD
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