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Your exercise and eating habits, age, gender, and health status all affect the number of bowel movements you experience in a given day. While there is no set number of bowel movements a person should have, it’s abnormal and possibly dangerous to go three or fewer times per week.
Often, constipation causes bowel movements that are not only infrequent, but also hard and difficult to pass. This leads to excessive straining and time spent on the toilet.
The causes of constipation vary. The condition may simply be due to such as things as dehydration or eating foods with too little fiber. In other, more serious cases, constipation can be the result of stress, hormonal changes, spinal injuries, muscle problems, cancers, and other structural problems affecting the digestive tract.
The following quick treatments can help induce a bowel movement in a few hours.
1. Take a fiber supplement
Fiber supplements are readily available and effective at inducing bowel movements if a low-fiber diet is the cause of your constipation. They work by adding bulk, or volume, to your stool. This helps push stool through your intestines and out of your body.
You can buy fiber supplements on Amazon. Here are a few common ones:
- calcium polycarvophil (FiberCon)
- psyllium (Metamucil, Konsyl)
- methylcellulose (Citrucel)
2. Eat a serving of high-fiber food
Try these foods that are high in fiber:
- whole-grain bread or cereal
- fibrous veggies and fruits
- rice and beans
Be sure to drink lots of water with these foods, as it will further help push your stool through your system.
3. Drink a glass of water
Proper hydration — typically at least eight 8-ounce glasses of clear liquid per day — is necessary for normal bowel movements. If you’re constipated and haven’t been drinking an adequate amount of water, consuming a large glass of water or other clear liquid may trigger a bowel movement.
4. Take a laxative stimulant
Laxative stimulants are designed to force a bowel movement by squeezing the intestines. You can get stimulants over the counter at your local pharmacy. Some popular options include:
- bisacodyl (Dulcolax, Ducodyl, Correctol)
- senna-sennosides (Senokot)
5. Take an osmotic
Osmotic laxatives work slightly differently than stimulant laxatives. They’re designed to help move fluids through the colon. Some examples include:
- magnesium hydroxide (Phillips Milk of Magnesia)
- polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX)
- magnesium citrate
- lactulose (Kristalose)
With a doctor’s prescription, you can obtain higher-strength polyethylene glycol, also called PEG (Golytely, Nulytely).
6. Try a lubricant laxative
Lubricant laxatives such as mineral oil add a slick coat to your intestine’s walls, allowing stool to move through your colon and out of your body more easily. Take mineral oil no more than two hours after your evening meal. Expect results within six to eight hours.
7. Use a stool softener
One common cause of constipation is dehydration, which can cause hard stool. Using a stool softener, such as docusate sodium (Colace) or docusate calcium (Surfak), can moisten the stool by pulling water from your intestines. This allows the stool to exit your body more easily.
8. Try an enema
There are several types of enemas that you can try. Enemas work by softening stool enough to produce a bowel movement. Some common types of enemas include sodium phosphate (Fleet), soapsuds, and tap water enemas. Learn about proper ways to administer an enema.
9. Try a suppository
Rectal suppositories also help encourage bowel movements by softening stool. Try a glycerin or bisacodyl suppository, which you can find at your local pharmacy.
10. Get in a squat position to poop
Bring a small footstool into your bathroom the next time you need to poop. Placing your feet on a stool in front of the toilet while you poop — so your body is essentially in a squatting position instead of in a seated position —can help you pass stool without straining.
11. Get some exercise
Light exercise, such as walking or jogging, can encourage bowel movements by increasing blood flow throughout your abdomen.
12. Try colonic massage
Massaging the colon can help stimulate the bowels.
The above advice can help encourage a quick bowel movement to relieve short-term discomfort. However, some of the lifestyle changes can also keep your constipation at bay more permanently. For regularity, try to make these tips part of your daily habit.
- Add more fiber to your diet, with fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, and whole grains. You should consume at least 14 grams of fiber per day for every 1,000 calories in your diet. If you need to take a fiber supplement for chronic constipation, start with a low dose and increase as tolerated. For some people, a large amount of fiber can lead to bloating.
- Exercise most days of the week with a daily walk, jog, bike ride, swim, or other form of exercise. Light exercise helps maintain proper circulation and can keep the bowels healthy.
- Consume plenty of liquids — mostly water and other clear liquids — every day. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of clear liquids per day.
- Manage your stress.
- Never “hold in” your stool.
Chronic constipation can make it challenging for a person to focus on their daily tasks and activities. If your constipation lasts more than a week and doesn’t respond to treatment, it’s time to see a doctor to rule out serious causes. See a doctor right away if your constipation is accompanied by dizziness, fatigue, cramping, or spasms.