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Self-Care for Constipation

What to Do for Constipation


Updated July 15, 2014

Woman eating a bowl of fruit salad
Photo: : Stock Shop Photography LLC/E+/Getty Images

Want to talk about discomfort? Whether you suffer from occasional bouts of constipation or the chronic health conditions of constipation-predominant-IBS (IBS-C) or chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC), you know the distress of having bowel movements that happen infrequently and are made up of stools that are small, hard, and painful to pass. Gas and bloating usually come along for the ride. Bowel movements are strained and there may be a sense of incomplete emptying.

Constipation occurs when the contractions of the colon are too slow, which causes too much water to be drawn out of the stool. Why this happens is not always clear. What is clear is that you can do certain things to ease your discomfort and get things moving. Just remember to check with your doctor before trying any of the following remedies

Eat Your Vegetables! (Fruit, too!)

Here are some food choices that have a reputation for easing constipation:
  • Fruits: Remember to eat “p” fruits, pears, pineapple, peaches, prunes, and papaya.
  • Cooked greens: spinach, kale, and chard
  • Cooked vegetables: artichoke hearts, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, and green beans
  • Beans: white canella and pinto

Get More Fiber Into You

When it comes to constipation, the first line of treatment is generally to recommend an increase in dietary fiber. Fiber comes in two types, soluble and insoluble. For the relief of constipation, there is some limited research support for increasing insoluble fiber in particular. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve water and thus adds bulk and moisture to the stool.

The two most common ways or increasing dietary fiber are through food and the use of bulk laxatives. The following article offers some simple tips for eating more high fiber foods:

This article explains how bulk laxatives work and provides a list of common bulk laxatives sold over the counter:

Magnesium Supplements

There is anecdotal support for taking a magnesium supplement. Magnesium helps to relax the muscles lining the walls of the colon, resulting in a smoother rhythm of contractions, therefore pushing stool along more easily. Magnesium also attracts water into the colon making for softer, easier to pass, stools:

Try Flaxseed

Flaxseed is a bit of a wonder food. When ground, flaxseed contains a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber. As ground flaxseed absorbs water, it forms a gel-like consistency that not only softens stool, but also seems to be soothing to the intestinal lining. Flaxseed is also an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids, which have a wide variety of health benefits, including good anti-inflammatory qualities. To get the maximum benefit of flaxseed for constipation, it is essential that you drink plenty of water.

Regularity for Regularity

For most people, the complicated system that triggers the urge to defecate is at its peak in the morning. Unfortunately for people with IBS-C, this system is out of whack. Try to re-awaken this sleepy response. Make sure to eat a substantial breakfast to stimulate the gastrocolic reflex, a response in which intestinal contractions are triggered by the act of eating. Try to schedule time each morning to have a relaxing trip to the bathroom following breakfast. Never force or strain, just make the time for your body to re-establish its regular biorhythms.

For specific instructions, see:

More on constipation care from Dr. Bolen, your IBS Guide:


Jones, J. et.al. British Society of Gastroenterology guidelines for the management of irritable bowel syndrome Gut 2000 47:ii1-19.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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