Yep, us naturopaths do talk about poop (a lot). We do this (*not to embarrass you*) but because it tells us a lot about what's happening on the insides.
So, get comfortable because, yes, it’s possible that you can be constipated, yet still have bowel movements. Constipation is typically defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. However, constipation has a few other potential symptoms, including:
- having a hard time passing stools
- passing stools that are hard and dry
- feeling like you’re not passing all the stool (incomplete evacuation)
Keep reading for more info on why constipation (and incomplete evacuation) occurs, and how to treat and prevent it.
In a perfect (poop) world, you’d have bowel movements that are formed, yet soft and easy to pass (no straining or struggling for long time periods).
While there’s no perfect number of bowel movements you should be having every week, most people aim to have a bowel movement at least every day.
When you’re constipated, things go a little differently. You may sit on the toilet for long times, trying to poop. You may also feel like you need to poop, but only get out a small amount of hard, dry stool, and you still feel like you could poop more.
This is known as incomplete evacuation, and is a hallmark constipation symptom.
From diet to medicines to lifestyle, there's quite a number of causes of incomplete evacuation.
- Diet. Not drinking enough water or eating enough fibre are common constipation contributors. Switching to a diet higher in fibre and fluids can help reduce constipation symptoms in many people.
- Ignoring the urge to go. If you resist the urge to go too often, it messes with your nerves that sense when it’s time to poop. Over time, this can lead to constipation.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This condition can cause chronic constipation as well as stomach pain and bloating (and often diarrhoea too).
- Medications. Many medications can slow down intestinal movement or affect how the nerves and muscles in the digestive tract work. While you shouldn’t stop taking any medicines without your doctor’s approval, it might be worth looking into what medicines you're taking and seeing if there is a link to constipation and chat to your health care practitioner or GP.
- Lack of exercise. Movement and exercise can help stimulate the bowels to move stool forward. People who are confined to bed or get very little physical activity are more prone to incomplete evacuation.
- Dyssynergic defecation. This condition occurs when the nerves and muscles responsible for promoting defecation don’t work together as they should. Examples include if the anal muscles don’t relax enough for stool to leave the body, or if the rectal muscles tighten instead of relaxing.
- Hypothyroidism. A low-performing thyroid affects the hormones that promote digestion, which can result in constipation.
- Anxiety and depression. A strong connection exists between the body and mind. Those who are anxious or depressed are more likely to experience incomplete evacuation.
Photo by manu schwendener
Constipation can be problematic for several reasons.
While practically everyone gets constipated periodically, there are some times when you should seek advice from your health care practitioner; including:
- abdominal pain or stomach distention (bloating), and you haven’t gone to the bathroom in a few days
- going longer than five days to a week without having a bowel movement
- having to use laxatives more than two to three times per week
- rectal bleeding
If constipation and discomfort are becoming the rule, not the exception, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider
How can I prevent constipation?
- drinking plenty of water each day such that your urine is pale yellow in colour
- engaging in regular physical activity, such as walking or swimming, to promote intestinal movement
- going to the bathroom when you feel like you need to; some people will even try to go to the bathroom the same time every day to “train” their bowels
- incorporating more fibre in your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; aiming for about 25 to 30 grams of fibre a day is a good goal
Don’t be embarrassed or worried about approaching the constipation topic with your healthcare provider. Pretty much everyone has been constipated at least once in their lives, so there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
If you’d like support in improving your digestive health, book in for a free 15-minute consultation with myself here.