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Over-the-Counter Treatments for Constipation

Constipation can be both a figurative and literal pain in the butt. If you’re having trouble going, you may be looking for simple over-the-counter solutions that can help you go. Here’s what you should know about treating constipation yourself, as well as when you may want to turn to a gastroenterologist for medical attention.

When it’s Actually Constipation

Everyone’s different when it comes to how often they have a bowel movement. Some people go three times a day while others only go three times a week, and both are normal; however, if you are having less than three bowel movements a week then you are considered constipated. If stools are dry or hard to pass, these are also signs of constipation.

Don’t Immediately Reach for Laxatives

While laxatives are often the first thing people try when it comes to treating their constipation you may want to hold off on those for the time being and try these simple hacks:

  • Make sure that you are staying hydrated (drinking enough water is key!)
  • Get regular exercise
  • Increase your fiber intake

For people dealing with mild or occasional constipation, oftentimes these simple lifestyle changes are all that’s needed.

Not all Laxatives Work the Same Way

If you’ve tried the lifestyle and dietary changes above and your bowels still aren’t moving, then you may be considering a laxative at this point. There are different types; however, it’s important to know which ones to use. Fiber supplements are often the easiest on the body (this includes products like Metamucil). Before purchasing laxatives, it’s a good idea to talk with your GI doctor about which one is right for you. Since people can become dependent on laxatives, you must speak with your gastroenterologist if you find yourself regularly dealing with constipation that can only be alleviated by using laxatives.

You May Need to See a Doctor

While there are many over-the-counter laxatives on the market that can help with occasional constipation, it’s also important to know when to see your gastroenterologist instead. You should consult with your doctor if,

  • You haven’t had a bowel movement in more than three days
  • You are using laxatives for a week but are still dealing with constipation
  • Your constipation is accompanied by bloody stools, abdominal pain, or dizziness
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You are unexpectedly and suddenly losing weight

While occasional constipation usually isn’t something to worry about, if this is something that happens to you regularly then it’s worth sitting down with a gastroenterologist for an evaluation. It could mean simply changing your lifestyle to improve your bowels or it could be a sign of a health problem that requires treatment.

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