If you have constipation, treatment can involve medications like laxatives, but other practices, including diet changes and pelvic floor physiotherapy, may help.

Constipation can occur for a variety of reasons and appear in different forms.

One type of constipation involves stool that moves too slowly through the large intestine. Another type involves stool that’s dry, hard to pass, and infrequent.

Almost everyone has experienced constipation at some point. For some people, constipation is chronic.

It’s estimated that 15% of people worldwide live with chronic constipation. Along with difficulty passing stool, you may have:

  • bloating
  • cramping
  • abdominal pain

Chronic constipation can affect your quality of life.

Doctors use several medications to treat constipation, usually starting with laxatives. Pelvic floor physiotherapy, which can include rehabilitation or bowel training, may also help.

If you live with chronic constipation, a doctor can recommend strategies and medications that may provide relief.

There are many myths about constipation out there. Here, we’ll separate the myths from the facts so you can better manage your condition.

Fact: There are many possible causes of constipation and different treatment approaches. Some health conditions and medications can cause constipation. Other times, we don’t know why constipation happens.

Fact: Fewer than three BMs per week is just one guideline for diagnosis. Others include dry stool that’s hard to pass and feeling like you can’t fully empty your bowels.

Fact: For some people, eating more fiber or changing the type of fiber they eat can help relieve constipation. For others, it doesn’t help or can even make things worse. Making dietary changes, staying hydrated, and moving more may help.

Fact: Many medications can help treat constipation without the risk of dependency. Talk with a doctor or pharmacist to discuss your best options. These may include over-the-counter medications and prescriptions.

Fact: Fiber, water, and taking medications may be helpful, but they’re not the only solutions for constipation. Pelvic floor physiotherapy or bowel training may also help.

Are laxatives really habit-forming?

Taking some types of laxatives, such as stimulant laxatives, too often can ultimately weaken the muscles of your bowel. This can make it hard for you to produce stools without stronger laxatives. But if you stop taking them slowly, your colon can eventually move stools without them.

Can your body become dependent on laxatives?

Using stimulant laxatives for a long time can make it harder to have a bowel movement without them. A doctor may recommend a combination of different medications and behavioral changes to help improve your constipation. However, if you become dependent on stimulant laxatives to have a bowel movement, you can taper use and eventually have bowel movements without them.

Can you become dependent on natural laxatives?

Natural laxatives like senna leaf and prunes do not cause dependency in the way stimulant laxatives can if used too often for an extended period.

How often is too often to take laxatives?

It’s best to use laxatives only occasionally and only while you are experiencing constipation. If you have constipation that lasts longer than one week, a doctor may be able to determine the cause and recommend treatment.

Constipation can have many different causes and criteria. You may have constipation if you have fewer than three bowel movements per week, dry stool that’s hard to pass or feel like you can’t fully empty your bowels.

Doctors can recommend treatment options for constipation. Treatment can include:

  • dietary changes
  • increasing water intake
  • increasing exercise
  • over-the-counter and prescription medication
  • natural remedies
  • pelvic floor physiotherapy or bowel training