If you’re one of the millions of Americans living with chronic constipation, you know how frustrating it can be when you’re not having regular bowel movements. With symptoms like bloating and cramps, constipation is no joke, despite the many jokes made about it.
Constipation can sometimes be an uncomfortable subject to talk about. Many people living with the condition simply accept that their bowel movements will always be an issue rather than seek treatment.
You don’t have to live in pain. There are a number of remedies available that can help you manage your symptoms and significantly improve the quality of your life.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular treatment options.
Over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives
A good place to start when looking for chronic constipation remedies is your local pharmacy. There’s a wide range of OTC treatments available that come in a variety of different forms, such as powders, pills, and suppositories.
Here are some quick facts about the most common types of OTC laxatives:
Fiber supplements bulk up and soften your stool. They can take several days to work and are safe for long-term use. They should be taken with plenty of fluids. Side effects may include stomach pain and bloating.
- psyllium (Metamucil)
- methylcellulose (Citrucel)
- calcium polycarbophil (FiberCon)
Osmotics increase the amount of water in your bowel and help move fluid through your colon. They’re fast-acting and safe for long-term use. They should be taken with plenty of fluids. They may cause stomach pain and diarrhea.
- magnesium citrate (Citroma)
- magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia)
- polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX)
Stool softeners draw water from your intestines to help make your stool softer and easier to pass. They can take several days to work and are safe for long-term use. One great perk of stool softeners compared to other OTC laxatives is that they generally don’t cause any side effects.
- docusate sodium (Colace)
- docusate calcium (Sulfolax)
Lubricants coat and lubricate your stool to help it move through your intestines more easily. They generally take six to eight hours to work. They should not be used long-term, as they may cause dependence. Side effects include stomach pain and cramping.
- mineral oil (Fleet Mineral Oil Enema)
Stimulants cause your bowels to contract more frequently and forcefully. They can take 6 to 10 hours to take effect. They should not be used long-term because they may increase your body’s tolerance to similar medications. Side effects include stomach pain and cramping.
- bisacodyl (Dulcolax)
- sennoside (Senokot)
Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria cultures into your body that can help with digestion. They can start to work within an hour, but could also take several days. They are safe for long-term use. The side effects include stomach pain and bloating.
- fermented foods (yogurt, certain pickled vegetables, certain cheeses)
If OTC laxatives aren’t working, you might want to talk to your doctor about trying a prescription medication. Although they may not act as quickly as OTC remedies, they can help to increase the overall frequency of your bowel movements in the long run.
Here are some quick facts about the most common types of prescription medications for chronic constipation:
Linaclotide speeds the movement of stool through your intestines and regulates the amount of intestinal fluid. It generally begins working within a day. It’s not recommended for children. Side effects include stomach pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Brand name: Linzess
Available form: pill
Plecanatide speeds up the movement of stool and regulates the amount of intestinal fluid. It generally begins working within a day, and is safe for long-term use. It’s not recommended for children. Side effects include stomach pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Brand name: Trulance
Available form: tablet
Methylnaltrexone prevents opioids from binding to receptors in your intestines. It’s recommended for people whose constipation stems from prescription opioid use. It generally begins working within a day, and is safe for long-term use. Side effects include stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Brand name: Relistor
Available forms: tablet or injection
Naloxegol also prevents opioids from binding to receptors in your intestines. Like methylnaltrexone, it’s recommended for people whose constipation stems from prescription opioid use. It generally begins working within a day, and is safe for long-term use. Side effects include stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Brand name: Movantik
Available form: tablet
Chloride channel activators
Chloride channel activators increase the amount of water in your bowel and help move fluid through your colon. They generally begin working within a day, and are safe for long-term use. Side effects include stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
Common variety: lubiprostone (Amitiza)
Available form: pill
In addition to the OTC and prescription remedies detailed above, there are lifestyle changes you can make that may help you manage your chronic constipation.
Increase your fluid intake
Drinking lots of fluids can soften your stool and prevent dehydration, which sometimes causes bowel movements to become impacted in your intestines. The recommended fluid intake for adults is 11.5 cups a day for women and 15.5 cups a day for men.
Coffee also increases bowel activity for some people, but due to a potential for bladder irritation, you shouldn’t rely on caffeinated drinks as your primary source of fluids.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can also help to make your bowel movements more regular. Whenever possible, choose foods that are high in fiber and low in fat, such as whole-grains, fruits and vegetables, and unsalted seeds and nuts.
As a rule of thumb, try to include 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat. Also, aim to have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
Staying active is another way to help manage your chronic constipation. Exercise increases the muscle activity in your intestines, which gives them more strength to pass stool through to your intestines and colon.
Even light physical activities like walking and taking the stairs can be effective for getting your bowels moving. Try to exercise most days of the week if possible, for at least 30 minutes.
Develop a routine
It can be useful to schedule a regular time every day to try and move your bowels. About half an hour after breakfast is a good time, especially if you have coffee in the morning.
You might also want to consider resting your feet on something while sitting on the toilet so that your knees sit above your hips, as this position may make it easier for stool to pass through your colon.
It’s understandable if at times you feel defeated by your chronic constipation. But don’t lose hope. There are medications and lifestyle changes you can try to help ease constipation. Talk to your doctor about which remedy options might work best for you.